'Hairspray' snags eight Tony Awards

Harvey Fierstein, who plays Edna Turnblad in "Hairspray," accepts his Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical. The show, inspired by a John Waters movie, lovingly celebrates Baltimore of the 1960s.
Harvey Fierstein, who plays Edna Turnblad in "Hairspray," accepts his Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical. The show, inspired by a John Waters movie, lovingly celebrates Baltimore of the 1960s. (AP photo)
Hairspray put the final rhinestones in its tiara last night when it swept the 57th annual Tony Awards with eight of the little silver trophies, including the top prize, for Best Musical.

A radiant Margo Lion, the show's Baltimore-born producer, shepherded choreographer Jerry Mitchell, filmmaker John Waters, a score of co-producers, the entire creative team and some of the cast onstage before accepting her trophy. "That's how many people it takes, and more, to make a musical. I'm not interested in standing up there by myself," she explained later.

The musical that lovingly celebrates the 1960s Baltimore of beehives, Formstone and polyester won awards in eight of the 12 categories for which it was nominated, including Best Actor in a Musical for the cross-dressing Harvey Fierstein.

He addressed his most serious competitor for the best actor prize, Antonio Banderas: "I told you, Antonio - if you're going to come to this country, you've got to dress like an American - in a dress."

So tender and persuasive was Fierstein's portrayal of the self-esteem-challenged 300-pound Edna Turnblad that one wag quipped that the only question was whether Fierstein would win the Tony for best actor or best actress.

Other Hairspray highlights included:

  • Marissa Jaret Winokur squealing with delight when she bested a field of distinguished actresses, including Bernadette Peters, to win Best Actress in a Musical.

    "If a 4-foot-11, chubby New York girl can be a leading lady in a Broadway show and win a Tony, then anything can happen," Winokur said.

  • Jack O'Brien winning Best Director of a Musical, as was widely predicted.

  • Dick Latessa receiving the award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. His Mutt-and-Jeff duet with Fierstein, "Timeless to Me," was among the show's sentimental highlights. Latessa's victory meant defeat for his fellow cast member, Corey Reynolds, who was nominated in the same category for his portrayal of Seaweed, one half of an interracial teen couple.

  • Awards being given to Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan's script, which improved on Waters' cult film; William Ivey Long's iridescent sequin and feather boa costumes (in gleeful bad taste); and Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's score, which moved from doo-wop to Motown while still sounding fresh.

    Shaiman and Wittman were responsible for what might have been the most surprising moment of the night. During the presentation for best score, Shaiman told Wittman, his longtime domestic partner and professional collaborator:

    "We're not allowed to get married in this world. But I love you and I'd like to live with you for the rest of my life."

    Then Wittman planted a relatively chaste prime-time kiss on Shaiman's mouth.

    The Tonys represented the sole remaining accolades that had not yet been garnered by Hairspray. Although it was an unlikely candidate to be a hit Broadway musical the show has been riding a kind of magic carpet since the moment it debuted in the Big Apple on Aug. 15 last year.

    It received glowing reviews from such opinion-shaping publications as The New York Times and The New Yorker. It made a star of Winokur. It rewarded the act of faith by Lion, who first decided to turn the movie into a stage musical.

    Mostly, it celebrated the inclusive vision of the iconoclastic Waters. Who else could have come up with the story about a fat girl who wins a handsome hunk, bops her way to television stardom and integrates a television dance show?

    Hairspray, which was staged for a cost of $10.5 million, steadily played to sold-out houses and turned a profit a mere nine months after opening on Broadway.

    All that remained for the fairy tale to be complete was the public declaration of excellence that a Tony Award for Best Musical signifies. (The Antoinette Perry "Tony" Awards were founded in 1947 and are the theater world's highest honor. The winners were selected by 724 theater professionals and journalists.)

    But Hairspray didn't win all of the 12 categories in which it was nominated. Hairspray nominees were defeated in the categories of choreography, orchestration, scenery and lighting.

    Two legends from other art forms won their first Tonys yesterday: Pop star Billy Joel shared the award for Best Orchestration for Movin' Out with Stuart Malina. And dance pioneer Twyla Tharp won the Best Choreography award for the same musical.

    Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out, about a black baseball star who comes out of the closet, won the Tony for Best Play. And A Long Day's Journey Into Night won the awards for Best Actor and Best Actress in a Play. Brian Dennehy won for his washed-out former matinee idol, and Vanessa Redgrave for her portrayal of a drug-addicted mother.

    But this year the Tonys celebrated Hairspray - and by extension, the city in which it is set.

    No matter that the lyrics for the show's first song feature neighborhood flashers and rats in the street. Hairspray speaks to Baltimore's deepest wish - to be appreciated for what it is, big hair, warts and all.

    Last night, the city was.

    Sun theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck contributed to this article.

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