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As far traditionally stunt-cast roles go, you can’t do much better than Edna, the enormous mother of the protagonist in John Water‘s Hairspray. “Drag queen of the century” Divine played the part in the 1988 movie. Harvey Fierstein played Edna in the musical version of Hairspray on Broadway. And in the movie musical: John Travolta.
And coming soon to the Signature Theatre: Local TV and radio personality Robert Aubry Davis. According to Signature’s press release, it’s the musical-theater debut of the jocular and erudite host of Around Town—-a show which regularly features City Paper critics Trey Graham and Chris Klimek. Which raises the question: How awkward will it be if Davis has to introduce a segment on a play he’s acting in? And how awkward will it be seeing this guy in a dress?
I’m guessing he’ll roll it off with erudite, pseudo-Victorian insouciance! Or at least that’s what the character captured in Eddie Dean‘s brilliant 1996 profile of Davis would do:
Among the dull pundits and marinated opiners of WETAdom, Davis stands out like some kind of Elizabethan carnival barker, an exuberant fireball out to save your soul even while picking your pocket for a pledge. For years now I’ve paused in spite of myself to watch Around Town as he holds court with his round table of critics.
The show’s purpose is to highlight current cultural offerings, a sort of whirlwind tour of what’s worth checking out and what’s to be avoided. But the show can render a viewer helpless with its barrage of informed opinions, turning you into a victim of drive-by art attack. The Around Towners sit around celebrating the local arts scene as if it were some delectable banquet (the panel’s pet critical adjective: “wonderful”), but ultimately it’s like waving a menu in front of somebody who can’t afford the tab. After all, who the hell has the time and money to go to all these can’t-miss events?
Tell that to Davis and he’ll tell you that you might as well try to survive without air. Absent art, life is…well, why would anyone bother?
At the show’s center, Davis pontificates on every conceivable subject, from the quiet joy inspired by an exhibit of Dutch landscape paintings to the shudder of awe he felt strolling through the exhibit of ancient Olmec statues. He seems to know everything about everything, from the ancients to the post-moderns to the latest new thing. At his worst, he somehow manages to swagger even while seated (off-handedly mentioning that he’s related to Union Gen. Winfield Scott), his hefty shoulders registering as he describes some recent frisson.
It doesn’t matter what he’s talking about. Even when he comes off like some pompous windbag he makes me feel like an idiot. The show always ends with Davis’ signature sign-off: “And I’ll be seeing you around town.”
Read that piece here. Hairspray opens at Signature on Nov. 21.