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‘Hairspray’ comes to Robinson Center beginning Jan. 16.

BIG HAIR: At Robinson.
  • BIG HAIR: At Robinson.

“Hairspray,” the Broadway smash-hit musical based on John Waters’ campy film about early 1960s Baltimore, opens in Little Rock Jan. 16 for three nights at Robinson Center Music Hall.

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. each night.

Dan Feretti, a Chicago-based actor who plays the father of the show’s heroine, says, “It’s based on the movie, so there are a lot of similarities in the stories, but they’ve just added some great music to it, some great dancing and great characters. It stays true to John Waters’ original movie.”

“Hairspray” — both the Waters film and the musical, in which Waters served as creative consultant — has an Arkansas connection. The late J.W. “Buddy” Deane, who began his career in radio at Little Rock and ended it as the longtime “Morning Mayor” in Pine Bluff at KOTN-AM, a station he bought in the 1960s, is the basis for the character Corny Collins, the host of the musical’s centerpiece TV dance show, “The Corny Collins Show.” Deane moved to Baltimore in the 1950s and became the country’s No. 1 disc jockey, then moved to TV with a two-and-a-half-hour, six-days-a-week teen-age dance show similar to Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” in Philadelphia. Both TV shows debuted in 1957. Deane would be on the air in Baltimore through 1964, before returning to Arkansas.

Waters appeared on “The Buddy Deane Show” and used some moments he recalled from the show in “Hairspray,” which centers around the overweight and bouffant-coiffed Tracy Turnblad (starring Brooklynn Pulver), who in 1962 dreams not only of winning a spot on Corny Collins’ dance show but also integrating it, while winning the heart of Link Larkin too.

“The show does a great job of recreating that era,” Feretti said by telephone from Denver, where the show was pulling in on Monday. “The music, the costumes, and the language of the actors on stage all really help recreate Baltimore in 1962.”

Though the show is played for laughs, it also has an obvious message, Feretti said: tolerance.

Tracy “is raised by two loving parents, she’s allowed to have dreams and told to do what you want to do,” Feretti said. “Her parents never tell her, ‘No, you’re too big, you don’t fit the mold.’ The show teaches tolerance, not only of yourself but of others … it’s her desire to integrate the TV show because she just doesn’t understand why black kids and white kids can’t dance together on TV. She’s a pioneer. She doesn’t look at color or weight as an obstacle.”

Feretti, who was born in Detroit, moved to Chicago in the mid-1970s and has worked mostly on the stage since. He was on a national tour of the Who’s “Tommy,” which played three months in Brazil as well as throughout North America. “I’ve done a lot of musicals, which is more my specialty. Musical theater, to dramatic stuff to Shakespeare to comedy, whoever will hire me … I’ve been fortunate to be steadily working for the past 10 years. Prior to that, I was always doing a show but sometimes you have to hold down a second job. For the past 10 years, though, I’ve been able to support myself with just my craft.”

As for some of the campiness, Tracy’s mom is played by a male actor (when “Hairspray” is taken to the screen later this year, John Travolta will star as Tracy’s mom). Feretti says he has a lot of fun with a “great duet” in the second act between Dad and Mom (played by Jerry O’Boyle).

“It’s a wonderful song [“You’re Timeless to Me”] and we have a great time doing it. The audience eats it up,” Feretti said. “The reason I like it so much is it’s more different than any other song in the score. It has an old-fashioned soft-shoe feel to it and it stands out.”

The music was written by Marc Shaiman, who also wrote the lyrics with Scott Wittman. The book is by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan. “Hairspray” went on to win eight Tony Awards out of 13 nominations after it debuted on Broadway in 2002.

Tickets for next week’s shows range in price from $17 to $52 and are available through Celebrity Attractions (244-8800, Third and Spring Streets) or Ticketmaster (975-7575, www.ticketmaster.com).

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