Hairspray (2007): How the Movie Helped Hairspray the Stage Show

July 27, 2007–Sales for the Broadway musical “Hairspray” have been up and down, and there were even closing rumors. But the movie, released July 20, has helped turn things around. The buzz from the big-screen adaptation has added cachet and volume to the Broadway version.

In the wake of the film’s $27.5 million opening weekend, the legit producers are hoping the movie, coupled with casting that generates press attention for the stage show, will help “Hairspray” maintain its run for many more seasons.

Based on John Waters’ 1988 movie, the Broadway “Hairspray,” about a chubby teenybopper who dreams of being on a 1960s “American Bandstand”-type TV show, became a hit in 2002, earning rave reviews and eight Tony Awards. But eventually, business declined.

“We had a moment when other people were thinking maybe Hairspray was winding down a bit,” says Margo Lion, lead producer with New Line Cinema of the legit version. “But now I feel like I’ve got a show that’s just reopened. The movie has given it a whole new life. “We’re a brand. Finally!” she adds. “It took five years. But a wide-release movie that people want to see clearly helps.”

The film version, featuring John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Queen Latifah, scored strong reviews and the best musical movie opening on record.

Due to a national marketing campaign for the picture that benefits the show by pumping the overall property, the Broadway show has been playing to capacity crowds. The advance is up half a million dollars, and weekly wraps have climbed since mid-June and are now up almost $400,000.

“Hairspray” is in the same boat as “Chicago,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Rent,” all of which benefited from movie adaptations, even if the pictures themselves underperformed at the U.S. box office (in the case of “Phantom” and “Rent”).

Scouting replacement stars has been an ongoing project for the legit show’s producers, taking a cue from the constant stream of thesps that step into the long-running “Chicago.” “Hairspray” has previously seen noticeable gains at the box office from replacement stars including “American Idol” alum Diana DeGarmo.

DeGarmo, Angel, Vega and fellow “Hairspray” alum Haylie Duff may not be huge names in the industry, but they have fans among young audiences, and young females are the prime demo for the tuner.

Shrewd casting is the main strategy for prolonging the boost in biz from the movie, and Telsey believes the movie’s success could help him gain access to stars whose heads he was previously unable to turn. Beyond casting, producers don’t plan a major push to link the show to the movie.

“We’re letting the public do it for us,” says Mark Kaufman, exec VP of production and theater at New Line and a co-producer of both the legit and the movie. “The movie isn’t a souvenir of the show; it’s a companion piece. People want to see both.”