Filmmaker, writer, artist and comedian John Waters has built his iconic career upon a body of work made right here in Baltimore. Now, he’ll have a lifetime achievement from the Writers Guild of America, East to show for it, too.
George Wendt from Cheers, comedian Paul Vogt and Tony-winning Broadway actress Beth Leavel are among the performers who will join narrator John Waters in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s “semi-staged” production of Hairspray: In Concert next month.
Laura Marie Rondinella will make her BSO debut in the starring role of Tracy Turnblad.
You know those brilliantly sunny Baltimore days when you burst out onto your stoop belting out, “Good Morning, Baltimore!”? No, is that just me? There is something about the magical combination of this city, that song, John Waters, and John Travolta that almost demands a smile creep up on your face. Waters so obviously loves Baltimore and sugarcoats it in the most charmingly honest way possible. As he wrote for that famous opening number for Hairspray: “Rats on the street/ dance around my feet.”
As any Baltimorean worth his/her salt knows, Hairspray is the John Waters movie (turned Broadway play) about Tracy Turnblad, an overweight Baltimore teenager who dreams of dancing on the Corny Collins show. Discrimination is a huge theme in the story, as Tracy fights to be accepted herself, and also protests the show’s discrimination against its black dancers.
Which is why the Plano Children’s Theatre production of the show is causing a bit of a ruckus: there are no black cast-members, and the teenager playing Tracy has to wear padding to appear properly plump. According to the president of the theatre’s board of directors, no black actors auditioned. Not wanting to cancel the show due to “political correctness,” the organizers decided to include a disclaimer in the show’s program:
“if the production of Hairspray you are about to see tonight features folks whose skin color doesn’t match the characters (not unlike how Edna has been traditionally played by a man), we ask that you use the timeless theatrical concept of ‘suspension of disbelief’ and allow yourself to witness the story and not the racial background (or gender) of the actors. Our show is, after all, about not judging books by their covers! If the direction and the actors are good (and they had better be!) you will still get the message loud and clear. And hopefully have a great time receiving it!”
According to the show’s original composer, Marc Shaiman, he and the show’s other writers didn’t feel it was right “to tell an actor they are incapable of portraying a character” because of their skin color.
We can’t help wondering what John Waters has to say about this.