PLAYBILL ON CLOSING NIGHT: Hairspray — The Fat Lady Sings

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05 Jan 2009

Harvey Fierstein at <I>Hairspray</I>'s final curtain with Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman and Jerry Mitchell
Harvey Fierstein at Hairspray's final curtain with Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman and Jerry Mitchell
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Edna Turnblad croaked her last on Jan. 4 at the Neil Simon Theatre as Hairspray went out in a blue blaze of glory with its 2,641th — and final — performance.

The 19th longest-running show in Broadway history did not go gentle into that good night. Far from it. It was a raucous, exuberant, exhilarating affair from start to finish, and it gave the staid old Simon a solid rafter-rattling that it won't soon forget.

When the cheering subsided to a manageable roar, the man in the Fat Edna suit — a rather large vision of feather-lined gossamer and psychedelic paisley — wafted center stage and started waxing eloquent in his gravelly, diamonds-in-the-rough fashion.

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Harvey Fierstein, "for the past six and a half years, these walls have barely held in the happiness of this building. Miracles like Hairspray don't happen every day, as we all know. Shows like this just don't come along, and it has been our privilege — those of us on the stage and many more — to participate and gain from this wonderful, wonderful show. But the best part is, no matter what mood we were in coming into the theatre, everyone of us knew that we could turn the audience into a screaming bunch of wild people."

Despite the gossamer (or maybe because of it), Fierstein's Edna was voted a 2003 Tony for Best Actor in a Musical. He subsequently did two other Broadway shows that didn't require high heels (Fiddler on the Roof and A Catered Affair), but he returned for one final swoop at Hairspray — as did the Best Actress in a Musical Tony-winner, Marissa Jaret Winokur, who played Tracy Turnblad, a rotund miniature of her mama. At the curtain call, Winokur was wearing a baby pouch — baby (five-month-old Zev) included. "My grandson," beamed Fierstein proudly.

They weren't the only Tony winners in the house, and, when Fierstein issued the clarion call ("Hairspray family, get up here, and let's dance!"), most of them charged the stage and boogied with the cast: director Jack O'Brien, book writers Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, costume designer William Ivey Long and producers Margo Lion, Adam Epstein, Richard Frankel et al. Tony nominees joined that number as well: choreographer Jerry Mitchell, scenic designer David Rockwell, lighting designer Kenneth Posner and orchestrator Howard Wheeler.

"It's been an adventure for us all, I have to say," Fierstein said, wrapping it up graciously, "and it's been a pleasure for us all to do this for the audience and for each other. And thank you. May something as wonderful as this happen to you."

Last-nighters had a bracing, nine-block stroll to the closing-night party scene, the newly refurbished Arena, at 41st and Seventh — and still the club staff wasn't ready for the deluge of shivering customers. A hulking, impassioned doorman who had obviously seen it all from the professional party set could not be moved, and the club manager informed the crowd gathering behind the velvet ropes that the show had ended earlier than anticipated and there would a 20-minute wait, which, in that weather, translated as The Ice Age. Fortunately, some clever person pointed out a patient little old lady right behind the ropes and spoke the magic words to the manager: "Harvey's mother." It was "Open Sesame," and the crowd streamed forth.

At first glance, Arena seemed not nearly big enough to accommodate the attendees, but there was a second-floor balcony that led into other party areas. The place was packed, all right, but not unpleasantly so. It was skipped by the major stars at the theatre — namely, Sarah Jessica Parker who had no qualms about hauling three boxes of popcorn to her seat for Matthew Broderick and their five-year-old James, twice-Tonyed Christine Ebersole, whose cabaret act with Billy Stritch just won a Nightlife Award, Jack Noseworthy, who's doing a musical serial-killer in Douglas Cohen's No Way to Treat a Lady at L.A.'s Colony in March, and TV weatherman Al Roker.

[flipbook] Most of the "star power" of the evening was reserved for the immediate family — Hairspray alums, both on Broadway and on the road: Linda Hart and the Legally Blonde Laura Bell Bundy (who recently made their Carnegie Hall debut together with the New York Pops), Kerry Butler, Mary Bond Davis, Adam Fleming, Cry-Baby's Alli Mauzey, Chester Gregory, Andrew Rannels (a onetime Link Larkin who's crossing 52nd Street on Jan. 13 to become Jersey Boy Bob Gaudio), Hollie Howard, Aubrey O'Day, Annie Golden, George Wendt (Fierstein's immediate predecessor as Edna), Shannon Durig, John Hill, Carly Jibson, Wicked's Shoshana Bean, Katherine Leonard, Jennifer Gambatese, Peter Mathew Smith, Hayley Podschun and Caissie Levy.


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