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Hairspray returns to Baltimore

Hairspray returns to Baltimore

John Travolta didn't show up for the premiere of Hairspray in the city that inspired it. Neither did Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, or Christopher Walken.

No matter. Most of the hundreds of screaming fans crammed behind barricades surrounding the red carpet Wednesday night weren't waiting for those A-listers anyway. They were more interested in a new generation of stars: Zac Efron of High School Musical, and Amanda Bynes of What I Like About You and, beginning her teens, Nickelodeon's The Amanda Show.

''It's very flattering,'' Efron said above the earsplitting shrieks. ''It feels great to be bringing this movie back to Baltimore.''

Before Bynes and Efron made their appearances, John Waters, the creator of Hairspray and a big star by Baltimore standards, soaked up the adulation.

Asked if he'd ever heard so many teenage girls screaming his name, Waters said: ''I look over there and many of them could be arrested if they saw my other movies, so times have changed.''

Waters was resplendent in a black sport coat, shirt, and tie, accented by lime-green pants and matching patent leather shoes.

''I try to always wear puke-green when I'm in Baltimore because that's my favorite color,'' said the venerable ''Pope of Trash,'' who hadn't made a PG-rated movie before Hairspray--or since.

Waters wrote the original Hairspray in the mid 1980s--before several stars of the new version were born--in the bedroom of his threadbare northwest Baltimore apartment.

Now the musical adaptation has been running on Broadway for five years, and the $75 million movie-musical version opens Friday.

Waters is thrilled with the transformation. The first time he saw the newest Hairspray, he insisted on being alone in case he hated it.

''It's better than I expected it to be,'' he said. ''I think they reinvented it. They made it new. That's the point, isn't it?''

A few minutes later Bynes, Efron, and Elijah Kelley, a lesser-known performer who radiates charisma as the character Seaweed, greeted Waters like an elder statesman. Newcomer Nikki Blonsky, who stars as the pleasantly plump dance-crazy Baltimore teenager Tracy Turnblad, referred to him as ''Mr. Waters.''

''This is a classic piece of John Waters material,'' said Bynes, who plays Tracy's best friend, Penny Pingleton. ''How could I not want to be a part of it? I think any young actress in their right mind would have wanted this part.''

Producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan clearly knew what they were doing when they went after Bynes and Efron. While recent big-ticket musicals like Chicago and Dreamgirls have fared well at the box office, Hairspray, with its young fans, could have a broader appeal.

Efron is ''not only right for the role, but God bless him, he brings with him all of teen idol-dom,'' Meron said.

Autograph seeker Kellsey Pieples, 13, of Indiana, Pa., said she probably wouldn't have been interested in Hairspray if not for Efron's involvement. ''Zac drew my attention to Hairspray,'' she said. Asked why she adored him so much, she pointed to his picture: ''Just look at him!''

Director Adam Shankman felt privileged to work with two generations of stars.

''All the actors were my first choices, which is remarkable,'' Shankman said. ''Chris Walken was the last one to commit. I said, 'You get to play John Travolta's husband.' He was like, 'That's funny. That, I've never been offered before.' '' (AP)

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Mike Grippi