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Aunt Pearl and Bertha Bumiller—plus-size women of Tuna, Texas—are “the precursor” to Paul Vogt’s portrayal of Edna Turnblad in Theater Under the Stars’ production of the mega-Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Hairspray that began previews Tuesday (October 5), officially opens Thursday (October 7) and runs through Sunday, October 17, at the Hobby Center.
In turn, Vogt “actually pulled from my own family” when he slipped into body suits to play those characters in Greater Tuna while in Florida.
Born in Buffalo, New York, this is Vogt’s virgin voyage to Houston, starring in what he calls not an impersonation but a fully realized character. It’s just that Edna is always played by a man: Divine and John Travolta in the movies, Harvey Fierstein on Broadway and in Las Vegas, where Vogt replaced Fierstein in May 2006 before making his Broadway debut as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray on January 30, 2007.
While prepping for the role in Vegas, Vogt said, “I got to sit and watch Harvey. It made me feel a little crazy. I knew I had to step up my game.”
Vogt was a longtime entertainer at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., before his breakout on NBC-TV’s 2002 summer series The Rerun Show. Vogt stole that show with his impersonation of Charlotte Rae as Edna Garrett on TV’s The Facts of Life.
“Everybody wants me to be a woman,” jokes the openly gay Vogt. “Jesus didn’t make me one, but I’ll play it.”
He plays men, too, and monsters. Vogt laughs heartily at the thought of fans remembering him as the gay Hulk on his other career-defining gig, FOX-TV’s hit late-night sketch comedy show, MADtv. His David Banner character meekly painted flower boxes, but a serum changed him into raging pink. “It was really very funny,” Vogt laughed. “He broke patio furniture. He redecorated in a very angry, angry way!”
On MADtv, he also impersonated Hannah Montana, and he “pretended to have heart attacks” as George W. Bush’s vice president.
“I don’t get hit on as much when I play Dick Cheney,” he winks.
TUTS summarizes Hairspray this way: “It’s 1962, and pleasantly plump Baltimore teen Tracy Turnblad has only one desire—to dance on The Corny Collins Show. When her dream comes true, Tracy is transformed from social outcast to sudden star, but she must use her newfound power to vanquish the reigning Teen Queen, win the affections of heartthrob Link Larkin, and integrate a TV network—all without denting her ’do!”
TUTS also provides a marvelous “study guide” that beautifully paints the journey from John Waters cult movie to Broadway musical to mainstream movie musical and, more importantly, portrays the civil rights movement that is the backdrop for the story. http://www.tuts.com/Images/SeasonShowDocs/Hairspray_StudyGuide.pdf
In Vogt’s favorite musical number in the show, his Edna “improvises a little” with husband Wilbur in the song “(You’re) Timeless to Me,” about how, although they are protective of their daughter, they can’t hide their pride when she becomes an icon for racial integration.
“I think it’s almost a perfect show. It’s like a Chevy,” says Vogt. “You get out of the way and let it play itself.
“It’s all about acceptance,” he explains.
As far as its effect on bullying that’s plaguing the country, Vogt says, “It can only help. Kids come to see the show, and the message is that we’re all equal and we should start treating each other better.
“You leave there better than you were when you came, without knowing you’re being taught something.”
It’s also inspirational, as every performance, Edna starts out a frumpy housewife and blossoms before our very eyes.
“A lot of people who have seen the movie think they’ve seen it, but the live show is funnier and more touching. It’s an incredible experience,” says Vogt.
“For gay folks, there’s lots of eye candy,” he adds. “Guys or girls, whichever you’re in to.”
Theatre Under The Stars
Box Office: 800 Bagby (inside the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts)
Online at www.tuts.com
Phone at 713/558-TUTS (8887)
E-mail at [email protected]
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.