Signature's Hairspray: A report from the Big Hair Ball
- Brianne Camp, assistant choreographer for 'Hairspray,' leads guests in the Teach Your Monkey to Swim. (Photograph courtesy Signature Theatre)
It’s gala season in Washington, and on any given weekend, a theater supporter can put on pricey dress (or tie), eat a $250 plate of chicken and potatoes, and listen to an artistic director in a tux beg for another check.
Or… a theater supporter could put on a retro dress (or skinny tie), eat crab cakes and do the mashed potato with the cast of Signature Theatre's Hairspray. “This is so awesome. I’ve had three crab cakes already!” said a giddy Carolyn Cole, the actress playing the big-hearted, big-haired heroine Tracy Turnblad. Cole wore tight black-and-white dress, bright blue eye shadow and a very effective push-up bra. Her brunet bob was expertly puffed. “I am such a teaser,” she said. “I love to tease.”
Cole was the guest of honor at Signature Theatre’s “Big Hair Ball,” a benefit that brought a little bit of genuine East Baltimore tackiness to the gentrified streets of Shirlington Saturday night. Maggie Boland, Signature’s managing director, swung by to give Cole a hug. Boland was looking mode in a red, white and black colorblock dress.
“I don’t always look like this,” Boland said, gesturing at her subtle bouffant. “But Carolyn always does.”
She meant that as a compliment. Ever since Hairspray debuted on Broadway in 2002, friends and total strangers have been telling Cole she should play Tracy. She had the looks, perky personality and confidence to take on the role that originally made Ricki Lake famous in John Waters’ 1988 cult classic movie about teens growing up in Baltimore during the 1960s.
“I auditioned, like, 37 times, and now I’ve finally got the part,” Cole, a Boston native said, sounding a lot more like a girl who grew up in Southie than, say, Essex.
- Director Eric Schaeffer, in the dark suit just behind these fun-loving folks, rocks a John Waters-worthy mustache. (Photograph courtesy Signature Theatre.)
So the accents may need work, but previews don’t begin until Nov. 21. When it comes to accessories and atmosphere, Signature already has Baltimore down. Video screens looped through vintage hairspray commercials. Set pieces were temporarily stationed in the lobby and buffet tables were covered with pink shag carpet. The food? Crab cakes were mustardy with plenty of parsley (authentic.) There was some sort of salsa garnish (not authentic.) The mac and cheese was probably better than Edna Turnblad’s, while the root beer floats were as good as any from the A&W stand on Pulaski Highway. Piled-high pies could have come straight from a Highlandtown diner.
Oops. Diner references are best saved for films by director Barry Levinson. Hairspray is classic John Waters, who as anyone who’s seen the film, musical or Pink Flamingos knows, is more interested in celebrating Baltimore’s blue collar idiosyncrasies in all their big-haired, lawn-ornamented glory.
And big hair is fun to celebrate, even if you are from, as Baltimorians say, “the Other Side of Town.” That is, from the higher class, Washington side. In honor of the Big Hair Ball supporters Howard Menaker and Patrick Gossett bravely ventured east, cruising Baltimore thrift shops for clothes for themselves and five friends.
“When we said big hair was involved, our friends were in,” Menaker said. “We’ve all been to those sit-down, stuffy theater benefits that are, frankly, boring. This is so much more fun.”
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