5th Avenue Theatre Parade Hairspray Anything Goes 1776

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client: The 5th Avenue Theatre
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Jack O'Brien directed Hairspray and also The Full Monty — a show with a better-known title that was coincidentally in the season.

As with Parade, we played up the creative team behind this unknown show, to gain the audience's trust. Mr. O'Brien was a talented and sought-after director, and it spoke well of the project that he chose to direct it.


Meet The Director: JACK O'BRIEN

Hairspray and The Full Monty, two of the six shows on our 2002-2003 season, share one important component: talented director Jack O'Brien. Jack was nominated for two 2001 Tony Awards for best director: one for The Full Monty, and one for the Tom Stoppard play The Invention of Love (for which he also received a Drama Desk Award). Previously, he earned Tony nominations for Two Shakespearean Actors and Porgy and Bess. He also directed the hit 1994 revival of Damn Yankees and The Little Foxes, both on Broadway, and numerous operas. For television, he has directed several productions for American Playhouse and his Broadway revival of The Most Happy Fella was produced for PBS. Jack recently took a moment to chat with us about his work on The Full Monty and Hairspray, both to be seen soon by 5th Avenue audiences.

Jack became involved with Hairspray through long-time friend and fellow director Rob Marshall, with whom he worked on Damn Yankees. Marshall worked on Hairspray's development for two years, but when it finally came to fruition he was committed to directing the movie version of Chicago. When Jack heard that filming the movie conflicted with directing the new musical, he knew Hairspray would come to him.

The rest of the creative team fell together very easily. Jack knew the project was perfect for choreographer Jerry Mitchell, his partner on The Full Monty. Together, they hope to recreate their Full Monty success (that musical was nominated for ten 2001 Tony awards). Teamwork is the key. While they rehearsed The Full Monty, in fact, Jerry temporarily moved in with Jack — they ate, drank and slept Full Monty. It's a good way to work: they never wasted time discussing independent decisions and their solidarity of vision gave the entire company direction. The rest of Hairspray's creative team is similarly connected anyone Jack hasn't worked with before is still familiar. "With this group," he said, "it's only three degrees of separation, rather than the proverbial six."

His cast could not be better: they're all charming, confident and multi-talented. The biggest challenge was finding the dance-show kids — dancers who were experienced enough for the material, but still believably young. The lead roles were filled, almost without exception, with the actors Rob Marshall assembled for the workshop. To Jack's mind, these actors had already invested two years in the show and played a part in its development.

Both The Full Monty and Hairspray, of course, hit the screen before the stage. Each is a story about characters — specifically, about characters who become performers. The subject matter is perfect for the stage, and even more perfect for a musical. Jack's philosophy of bringing movies to the stage is that you don't want to compete with the film. You can't necessarily recreate specific moments of the film — especially if they are well known. Instead of making a word-for-word or moment-for-moment copy, the goal is to create something new that is true to the feeling and essence of the movie.

When he staged The Full Monty, it was decided to relocate the action to the United States. With Hairspray, however, Jack never once considered moving the story out of Baltimore. As a director, he wanted to "protect the kind of psychology that makes the story and characters possible. This is John Waters' world. The Baltimore setting brings the audience into a specific time and place, and they accept the strangeness of the characters as a given. Innocent, gentle, but completely loopy."

In Hairspray, Jack sees a unique opportunity to blend fantasy with reality. In this story set in 1962 Baltimore, we explore a specific, real moment in time — before the Beatles changed everything — when mores were stricter and things seemed simpler. Yet the characters and craziness, not to mention the hairdos, give this "reality" an adventurous and creative sheen. We float in a bubble of belief between how it really was and how we imagine it could have been.

In his twenty years as artistic director for the Globe Theatres in San Diego, Jack has directed more than 60 productions. Somehow, he has also found the time for other projects all across the country and on Broadway. How can he do all this? Jack says he is "lucky to have an enormous amount of energy." Also, his projects are different enough to energize him; the excitement of each new show leaves him constantly refreshed — "like plugging in a different color light bulb." Jack's next project is a new staging of Nora Ephron's Imaginary Friends at the Globe in the fall. We wish him the best of luck!