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Baltimore/Washington Backstage - May 19, 2007

Was Oprah Winfrey feigning ignorance that she didn't know anything about the movie "Hairspray", that she thought it was about hair? She said it twice during her May 16, 2007 show featuring the upcoming film which makes its debut in theaters on July 20. While the film was not filmed in Baltimore (Toronto stands in for Charm City), it is likely there will be a Hollywood style World Premiere, possibly at the Charles Theater.

It was a fascinating hour. The show opened with a large segment of the cast singing "Good Morning Baltimore", followed by "Ladies' Choice" and then "That's Where It's At".

Winfrey gushed all over John Travolta who portrays Edna Turnblad in a "curvaceous" fat suit that took him five hours a day to put on. Many may recall Winfrey spent eight years in Baltimore and joked about the Baltimore accent being difficult to master. Travolta mentioned his experience filming IN Baltimore in "Ladder 49". He said his friends who were firemen helped him with the accent. They both then traded barbs using the "Hon" word numerous times.

He said to Winfrey with sincerity, "I am a Baltimoreon hon. I have a strong fondness for the people of Baltimore. This is my homage to them."

Producers of the film, Craig Zaiden and Neil Merron, were there and Merron when asked why Travolta was chosen answered, "He's the greatest star of movie musicals. Why not?"

Travolta admitted it took one year and two months to convince him to play the role and also confirmed he was asked to be in the film of the musical "Chicago" but turned it down.

Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays Velma, was interviewed. The wonderful number "Big Blonde and Beautiful" (by Pfeiffer and Travolta) was shown.

Queen Latifah was next and said she based her character on her mother, a high school teacher. She found the topic regarding racism really hit home.

The star of the film is Nikki Blonsky whose prior job was selling ice-cream on Long Island.  Her screen test was shown as was a video of her finding out she got the job as Tracey Turnblad. She thanked her supportive parents. And her response to the question, "What you do after you got the role"? She replied she bought a bed (her bed was 18 years old).

Elijah Kelley, from La Grange, GA, plays Seaweed. He told the story that his parents quit their jobs, jumped on a plane to LA with just their clothes, and allowed him to chase his dream to succeed in show business. Looks like it paid off.

Zak Efron has the role of Link Larkin. You may remember his name from the hugely successful Disney film "High School Musical".

What I found surprising was the lack of any sort of mention of "Hairspray's" history. NO mention of John Waters.  NO showing of a short scene from the 1988 film.  NO mention of the Tony winning musical which is still on Broadway and touring. And NO mention of Marc Shaiman who wrote the music and lyrics.

The final scene had the ensemble singing "You Can't Stop the Beat" but without any soloists. So the performers were singing backup to a tape. Looked very strange.  But, to sum it up, Winfrey LOVED it and highly recommended it to all age groups.

The Tony Awards' nominations were announced this week. I wasn't surprised at the 11 nominations for "Spring Awakening" which is joined by "Curtains", "Grey Gardens" and "Mary Poppins" for the honor of Best Musical. Once again, my esteemed colleague James Howard and I will be making our predictions prior to the Tonys which will be awarded Sunday night, June 10 on CBS. I was disappointed that while some of the nominations were televised LIVE on CBS on May 15, there was no follow-up discussion. I found this strange.

You may recall my affection for the BBC musical television series "Viva Blackpool". Good news. This lip-synching eccentric show will be coming to the U.S. as "Viva Laughlin" starring Lloyd Owen. Hugh Jackman is an Executive Producer and will be appearing occasionally. This CBS show could be a sleeper.

"Artworks This Week" had a nice discussion about the Center Stage play "Things of Dry Hours". Actor Roger Robinson was interviewed. He commented that the play at Center Stage is a new version while the original script is being used in a production in London. He refused to say which version he preferred.  You can see a repeat on Monday morning, May 21 at 5:30 a.m. This play about Communism in Alabama among the African-American community during the depression continues until June 3. 410-332-0033.

For a more extensive review of Jason Robert Brown's "Songs for a New World" wonderful concert staging at the Music Center at Strathmore Hall see the Washington Post review by Celia Wren on Friday, May 18.  One suggestion, I'm sure there could have been many CD's sold of the original Off-Broadway production if they were available to patrons.

Next up at Strathmore comes "Karen Akers: Simply Styne" on Friday, June 8 at 8 p.m.

Next season, Strathmore has a nice line-up of Broadway performers coming. They include Patti LuPone (Oct. 8, 2007), Mandy Patinkin (March 1, 2008), and Brian Stokes Mitchell (April 4, 2008). For a complete schedule visit or call 301-581-5100.

It has been reported that Michael York will be leaving the tour of "Camelot" this summer and will not be coming to Baltimore's Hippodrome next season. But you may be able to see him this summer at Wolf Trap when the show will perform July 11-15. You can see it from the grass for only $18. For tickets: 877-WOLFTRAP or visit

Mark your calendars for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Broadway Showstoppers coming to Oregon Ridge in Hunt Valley July 14. Advance tickets are $15 and children under 12 are $7. What a deal. And, there's free parking AND fireworks after the concert.

You'll hear selections from "Phantom of the Opera", "Chicago" and "The Producers" and more.

Closing this week-end, "Titus Andronicus at the Shakespeare Theatre (202-547-1122), "Meet John Doe" at Ford's (202-397-7328), "I Am My Own Wife" at Olney Theatre Center (301-924-3400), and "Tartuffe" at the Vagabond (410-563-9135). Recently saw previews of a film about Moliere. Looks interesting.

I want to stress this DO NOT MISS production of "Peter and Wendy" at the Arena Stage. The Target Family Fun Pack includes 4 seats, 4 drinks, and 4 snacks for $100. Call 202-488-3300.

Everyman Theatre at its opening night last night for Harold Pinter's "Betrayal". 410-752-2208. Looking forward to seeing this.

William Finn's "Falsettos" is at the Fells Point Corner Theatre through June 10. 410-276-7837.

Annapolis' Bay Theatre Company continues with the comedy "Table Manners: by Alan Ayckbourn. 410-268-1333.

More comedy? Don't miss Larry Shue's "The Nerd" at the Spotlighters through May 27. 410-752-1225.

Another comedy just opened at the Olney, "13 Rue De L'Amour" through June 10. 301-924-3400.

Theater J is presenting a World Premiere of "Either Or" by Thomas Keneally. 800-494-8497.

Two big shows are coming to the Signature and the Round House.

The musical "Summer of 42" runs May 30 – June 24 at Bethesda's Round House Theatre. 240-644-1100.

And there could more Broadway buzz about the Signature's "Witches of Eastwick" directed by Eric Schaeffer. It runs June 5-July 8, 2007.  A stellar cast includes Marc Kudisch, Jacquelyn Prio Donovan, Christiane Noll, and Emily Skinner. 800-955-5566.

The Folger Theatre has "The Tempest". 202-544-7077.

Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" is at The Studio Theatre. 202-332-3300.

Clear Space Productions' second annual New Works Festival (Nov. 16 & 17) is now accepting submissions. The Festival is comprised of un-published theatre music and musicals contributed by composers, lyricists, and book writers world-wide. Submission deadline is JUNE 1, 2007. For further information, contact Clear Space Artistic Director, Doug Yetter at


"Love's Labor's Lost" will have 10 free performances outdoors at Carter Barren Amphitheatre, 16th  Street and Colorado Ave. NW. May 24 – June 3. 202-334-4790 or visit

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Songs for a New World photo by Margot I. Schulman - Alice Ripley applauds Jason Robert Brown


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From This Author Charles Shubow