There's a serious bait and switch taking place throughout the United States as Hairspray tours the nation in the Broadway Across America series. Only trouble is, despite advertising itself as "Broadway's Tony Award-winning musical-comedy phenomenon," this one is strictly a poseur.
Unsuspecting audiences throughout North America will be forgiven for thinking that they're seeing a production that has all of the same production credits as the original Broadway tuner, but they need to beware that the tour is not directed by Jack O'Brien, nor is it choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. Furthermore, audiences are paying the same prices to see non-equity actors that they'd typically pay to see equity actors.
This is an outrage and just plain wrong. Something is seriously amiss in all of the advertising materials. For example, in Minneapolis where the touring Hairspray is currently performing, the Hennepin Theatre District Web site "clearly" states:
Broadway's Tony Award®-winning musical-comedy phenomenon takes you back to 1962 Baltimore, as 16-year-old Tracy Turnblad sets out to dance her way onto TV's most popular show. Can a big girl with big dreams -- and even bigger hair! -- change the world … and still have time to win the boy she loves? It's the winner of eight 2003 Tony Awards®, including Best Musical. As The New York Times says, “If life were everything it should be, it would be more like Hairspray. It's irresistible!”
Alongside the description, the Hennepin Theatre District provides two Internet links:
The first, of course, is not to the touring production's Web site, but to the official site of the Broadway show. The second link goes to Broadway Across America, which provides the same description as the Hennepin Theatre District site in an expanded version that also adds: "This mega-hit is piled bouffant-high with laughter and romance -- and enough deliriously tuneful new songs to fill a nonstop platter-party."
It's only after getting four clicks in -- and two clicks beyond where the unknowing consumer would likely purchase tickets -- that a link for the touring production of Hairspray is found. It's another three clicks before I finally found the following line buried in the scroll at the very bottom of the synopsis icon:
This produc- tion of Hairspray is based on Jack O'Briens [sic] original direction and Jerry Mitchells [sic] original choreography, recreated by Matt Lenz and Danny James Austin, respectively.
Sure, Lenz did serve as associate director on the original Hairspray to Jack O'Brien, but that's no guarantee that he has the same deft touch.as the Tony Award-winner.
Since I just don't think too many consumers will go to the trouble of digging as deeply as I did before deciding to see this popular show -- and they certainly won't know that they're paying top ticket prices to see non-equity actors -- I believe that the producers are perpetrating a morally deceptive practice and taking ill advantage of their audience's goodwill and excitement engendered by the original production.
Interestingly enough, Minneapolis' Star Tribune critic Rohan Preston (the very same Rohan Preston to serve as a member of the jury for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama whose recommendation was completed ignored) didn't seem to mind, but Dominic P. Papatola of the competing Pioneer Press in St. Paul called this a "fourth-rate production" with a "third-tier cast."
If life were everything it should be, productions would be more honest with their patrons. Shame on this touring production. Caveat emptor, indeed!
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).
Click here for ticket information for the touring production.
Click here for tickets to the real deal on Broadway.
Hairspray To Brush With West End Style (March 9, 2007)