We saw the 20th Anniversary Tour of HAIRSPRAY tonight. I have some thoughts. This isn’t mainly a review, though. I will say that for a show that has been on the main stem and the road for a significant part of those twenty years, a production with only one recognizable-to-me name (Andrew Leavitt aka Nina West as Edna), and a couple of covers in tonight, it felt fresh, without the “39th road company of XXXXX” feeling many of us have experienced. It stars a solid (pardon the pun) Tracy and a bluesy Motormouth Maybelle in the Queen Latifah mold, and if some of the older male features play it a little broadly compared to the originals, they show was in no way hindered by it, and in places, boosted.
No, I’m writing about the joy of seeing old “friends” again on stage with largely-new audiences, and the joy it can bring.
I think this is especially true for comedy. The joy of hearing a mostly-unfamiliar audience experience a joke you know well land… there’s nothing like it. The pleasure starts with the anticipation, builds till the punchline lands, and explodes with the laughter. It makes the communal experience personal in a wonderful new way. Feeling that happen again and again with HAIRSPRAY, a show vast sections of which I know by heart, made the evening as special in its own way as discovering a new masterwork for the first time.
I’m reminded of Jane Wagner’s line from THE SEARCH FOR INTELLIGENT LIFE IN HE UNIVERSE, as delivered by Lily Tomlin (and now, I guess, Cecily Strong). Trudy, her bag lady character, explains the difference between a can of soup and Andy Warhol’s soup-can portraits to the aliens with whom she communicates. Later, they see a play, and she asks them about their experience. “The play was soup. The audience was art.” HAIRSPRAY was by no means soup, other than it being a nourishing evening. But the audience was art.