Broadway version reaping the benefits
For a while, it looked as if the bouffant of “Hairspray” had begun to sag. Auds started to taper off. A Vegas incarnation shuttered swiftly. Broadway sales were up and down, and there were the inevitable closing rumors.
But a healthy spritz of movie buzz from the screen adaptation (released July 20) has added luster and volume to the Broadway version’s ‘do. And in the wake of the film’s $27.5 million opening weekend, the legit producers are hoping the pic, coupled with casting that reaps a steady trickle of press attention for the stage show, will help “Hairspray” maintain its bounce for seasons to come.
Based on the 1988 John Waters movie, the Broadway “Hairspray,” about a zaftig integrationist teenybopper who dreams of being on a 1960s “American Bandstand”-type TV show, became a certifiable hit in 2002, earning rave reviews and eight Tony Awards. Eventually, though, biz declined, and recognition of the property was tough to come by on the road.
But the movie has helped turn things around.
“We had a moment when other people were thinking maybe ‘Hairspray’ was winding down a bit,” says Margo Lion, lead producer with New Line Cinema of the legit version. “But now I feel like I’ve got a show that’s just reopened. The movie has given it a whole new life.
“We’re a brand. Finally!” she adds. “It’s hard. It took five years. But a wide-release movie that people want to see clearly helps.”
The new film version, featuring John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah and Christopher Walken, scored strong reviews and the best movie-tuner opening on record.
And thanks in large part to a national marketing campaign for the pic that benefits the stage tuner by pumpingthe overall property, the Broadway show has been playing to capacity crowds. According to Lion, the advance is up half a million dollars. Weekly wraps have climbed since mid-June and are now up almost $400,000.
Laura Green, the show’s general manager, says the groundwork for the movie boost was laid earlier this year, as the usual summer tourism sales got a bump up from replacement stars including Jerry Mathers (“Leave it to Beaver”), former O-Town member Ashley Parker Angel and Alexa Vega (“Spy Kids”).
“Since May, we’ve been building this momentum,” says Green. “I think we’re still going to see our seasonal trends, but hopefully what the movie will do is educate, or re-educate, people on what ‘Hairspray’ is about.”
“Hairspray” finds itself in the same boat as “Chicago,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Rent” — all of which benefited from movie adaptations, even if the pics themselves underperformed at the U.S. box office (as in the case of “Phantom” and “Rent”). The adrenalin-shot from the movie will be especially helpful to the London production, which bows in the fall.
“This is a situation where a show, once it’s started its downward trend, bumps back up,” Lion says. “I think the movie will help extend the life of ‘Hairspray’ both in New York and on the road. And if we can enhance it with casting, even better.”
Scouting replacement stars has been an ongoing project for the legit show’s producers, taking a cue from the constant stream of thesps that step into the long-running “Chicago.”
Former ‘N Sync member Lance Bass will take over the role of TV host Corny Collins in August, while Ashley Spencer, a runner-up on casting reality skein “Grease: You’re the One That I Want,” has recently begun a stint as mean girl Amber. Mathers appears as the father of plump protagonist Tracy.
“Hairspray” has previously seen noticeable gains at the box office from replacement stars including “American Idol” alum Diana DeGarmo.
DeGarmo, Angel, Vega and fellow “Hairspray” alum Haylie Duff may not be huge names in the industry, but they have fervent fans among young auds — and young females are a prime demo for the tuner.
“We look for people who aren’t on the typical, obvious radar of stardom,” says Bernard Telsey, whose office handles “Hairspray” casting. “But they have an audience; they have a following. That helps get the show out there more and more, so it doesn’t get left behind by all the new shows coming in.”
The storyline’s large roster of important characters helps make his job easier. “There are so many great parts, and they’re all distinct characters,” Telsey says. “Our challenge is to sprinkle it with people who can get audiences to come.”
The youthful new castmembers also can attract press from outlets that aren’t usually legit-minded, such as Univision and Cosmo Girl, while replacements for Tracy’s parents, like Mathers, Bruce Vilanch or Michael McKean, can appeal to an older generation.
Canny casting is the main strategy for prolonging the boost in biz from the movie, and Telsey believes the movie’s success could help him gain access to stars whose heads he was previously unable to turn.
“I’m hoping that now, me making a call about ‘Hairspray’ has even more clout,” he says.
Beyond casting, producers don’t plan a major push to link the show to the movie.
“We’re letting the public do it for us,” says Mark Kaufman, exec VP of production and theater at New Line and a co-producer of both the legit version and the movie adaptation. “The movie isn’t a souvenir of the show; it’s a companion piece. People want to see both.”