The great thing about Hairspray is how it empowers the audience to step beyond expectations and to do great things.
The sad thing about Hairspray is that you have to walk into the real world when it’s over.
Case in point: One of the best things about Miss Saigon was that it gave a plethora of very talented Asian-American performers a chance to shine in roles of a lifetime. One of the tragedies, however, is that so few of those performers have gone on to appear in other shows on Broadway.
For African-American performers, there is an increasing amount of casting in “white shows” (i.e. The Drowsy Chaperone, Wicked, The Music Man), plus there have recently been a number of significant shows with large African-American casts—The Color Purple; Caroline, or Change; Aida, Jelly’s Last Jam; The Lion King. But it seems like there’s still a large barrier for other performers. I never saw Bombay Dreams, but in an interview I saw with Ayesha Dharker, she seemed so funny and charming, and she can definitely move. But it’s doubtful we’ll ever see Ayesha Dharker on Broadway again. And where’s Sandra Allen been with her follow-up to Flower Drum Song? In the performance of “Fan Tan Fannie” I saw on The Today Show, she seemed like the complete package to me.
We’re even seeing it with Hairspray. In the bonus features on Rick McKay’s Broadway: The Golden Age, Marissa Jaret Winokur sings from Annie Get Your Gun then says, “I’ll never play that role.” You know she’s right. Honestly I’m not sure how well Winokur would handle the songs in her character singing voice, but that’s not why she won’t ever get that part. Annie Oakley can’t be ugly, but Winokur certainly is not. Winokur is sexy and very talented, and she’s got a Tony to prove it. But she won’t get the part.
I am proud to say as I’ve contemplated the shows I’ve been writing/wanting to write, I’ve always been very open in terms of casting. For example, in the show I always said would be my third show, I always figured that one large part would be played by an African-American actor (provided he wasn’t too old to play it by the time I ever got anywhere with it) even though historically, it might not be an accurate casting choice. If you’re dealing with a major historical time period where the look of the characters matter—like in Cabaret—you can’t really be too creative in casting, but if you’re dealing with something less specific, then it’s not a big deal. Okay, so maybe Belle wouldn’t have been African-French. But it’s not particularly historically accurate that someone would express emotions through song and dance either. I think Cameron Macintosh should be applauded for the diversity he’s promoted in Les Miserables over the years. Once again, he showed us how it should be done.
So I dedicate this blog entry to Melinda Chua, Luoyong Wang, Margaret Ann Gates, Carly Jibson, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Ayesha Dharker, DeeDee Magno, Sandra Allen, Shannon Durig, and a host of other wonderful performers. May your talent take you far.
the Broadway Mouth
August 15, 2007