Tourists hitting 'Hairspray' hot spots

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Hairspray, the Tony Award-winning, Baltimore-inspired musical, is just weeks away from making its Baltimore debut, and city tourism officials have been promoting Charm City for months as "the city that inspired the show!"

After seeing the musical last winter, Mayor Martin O'Malley said he believed that the show "can do great things for Baltimore."

So with summer-tourism season at its peak, is Hairspray proving to be a drawing card for city visitors?

The answer, according to workers at some of the attractions on the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association's Hairspray-inspired list, is yes and no.

The list, chosen and annotated by filmmaker John Waters, whose movie Hairspray inspired the musical, covers dozens of stops, from bars and restaurants to boutiques to graveyards. At least a few of those places have had visitors for whom the musical or the Waters' list was the impetus. (It can be found online at www.baltimore.org/pages/hairspray.htm.)

One of those spots is 36th Street, a k a the Avenue, what Waters calls the "aorta" of Hampden (and heart of his 1998 film Pecker).

At Hometown Girl, a 36th Street retailer of Baltimore-themed kitsch and memorabilia, out-of-towners regularly mention Waters and Hairspray when they stop in.

Alli Veditz, a John Hopkins University student and Hometown Girl employee, says "a lot of people come in asking [about Waters and Hairspray]. ... Especially the people from out of town - New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania - they are all really interested in Hampden and that whole retro Baltimore culture from the John Waters movies."

Tim Owens, an employee of D'Amici's, a 36th Street restaurant and a Pecker location, says a Hunt Valley family that visited last week came in while following Waters' tour. "They said they were going to go to all the places that [he] had picked on that Web site."

(Not that all of Waters' picks are family-friendly. Some of his more colorful selections include the Earle Theater, which he describes as a "classic" porn house, the Apex Adult Cinemas on Broadway and the Atlantis Club on Fallsway downtown. "Best male strip bar," Waters says enthusiastically about the latter, adding: "Next to state prison for easy access.")

In a literary vein, Waters endorses Atomic Books, another 36th Street retailer, which he describes as "a great place to find a gift for the most insane person you know." In fact, the eccentric filmmaker has his fan mail sent directly to this shop, which is frequented by Waters fanatics.

Rupert Wondolowski, co-owner of Normals, a Waverly-area store selling used books and records, says he was unaware that Waters had listed his store as a must-see destination. But he's seen plenty of Hair- spray excitement from his customers, and Waters himself drops by from time to time, he says.

"Heck, the only reason any of us work here is for a chance to see John Waters," he says, jokingly.

While Oriole Park at Camden Yards isn't on Waters' list, Hairspray fans might get a chance to see a performance by the Baltimore cast there before baseball season is over. Orioles public-relations director Bill Stetka says the club hopes that cast members might be recruited to sing the national anthem at future games.

But Stetka firmly quashed rumblings that Hairspray's theme song, "Good Morning Baltimore," might replace longtime fan favorite "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" during the seventh-inning stretch at Orioles games. The musical's opening number, he says, is "too long to use during the stretch. We couldn't do it justice."

Not every venue cited on the Hairspray/Waters list has felt the Waters windfall, of course. The Baltimore Zoo's Reptile House, for instance, is mentioned in the category "only in Baltimore." A spokesman for the zoo says there has been a rise in attendance this summer, but stopped short of attributing that bump to the nudge from Waters and the tourism association.

Maybe if the zoo had a pink flamingos house ...

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