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The Look Of Hairspray
Creating the visual universe for the iconic 1960s-era Hairspray images was a monumental task that fell to the team of production designer David Gropman, costume designer Rita Ryack and hair designer Judi Cooper-Sealy. For all of them, their inspiration was the genius of John Waters, and a whole lot of homework.

"The absolute first thing I did was watch the original Hairspray,” says Gropman. "You have to start there. It's the source material, the genesis of the story, and it shows you when and where the story takes place. So even before I started my intensive research at the New York Picture Collection or took my first trip to Baltimore, I watched John's movie. It's a wonderful film and beautifully designed and there's no question I threw in a couple of design details, a couple of moments here and there as a wink and a nod to the first film - my way of paying tribute to the original.”

Gropman and his team of art directors, set designers, decorators, dressers, prop masters and construction crew were responsible for the physical look of every soundstage set and practical location in the movie, from the restrictive interior of the "Run and Tell That” school bus to the expansive, triangular, three city-block Baltimore streetscape which serves as the backdrop to "Good Morning Baltimore” and "Welcome to the Sixties,” two of the movie's biggest production numbers.

"Undoubtedly, the streetscape was the single largest undertaking for the art department,” says Gropman. "We converted over 60 existing modern-day storefronts, changed all the signage to circa 1962, filled the roads with period automobiles and closed down a three-street intersection of one of Toronto's busiest commuter neighborhoods for almost two weeks.” 

Like so many of the filmmakers and other designers, Gropman began his career designing sets for the theatre, but Hairspray is his first feature film musical. "It was much more like working on a stage play or musical than I had anticipated, with the long rehearsal process and being able to actually see most of the finished, choreographed musical numbers even prior to the start of set construction. Seeing how Adam was choreographing and staging the numbers gave me an inordinate amount of useful information that I could take back to my designs and implement so that they would function properly within Adam's vision for each particular scene, song or dance.”

Gropman points out that director Shankman made it clear from the beginning that he did not want the film's look to resemble a Broadway show in any fashion. "Adam didn't want the look to be theatrical or exaggerated in any way,” says Gropman. "He wanted a very real-looking world of Baltimore in 1962 and I think we gave him what he wanted. Whether it was the color palette of Tracy's bedroom or the stonework on the outside of her house, everything was circa '62. Tracy's school is a real school that opened in 1962, the Turnblad backyard is a detailed, full-scale set from the chain link fences to the laundry on the line, and the WYZT television studio is replete with early-sixties cameras, microphones, studio lights and audience bleachers. It was all great fun because I found myself combining all the disciplines that I have studied and known and practiced for years.”

As with all film collaborations, Gropman, as the production designer, worked very closely in concert with Oscar®-nominated costume designer, Rita Ryack. In fact, the two had previously worked together on The Human Stain. Ryack, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama with a Masters in Design, spent many years in the New York theatre circles and found herself fortunate to have designed several Broadway musicals, including "My One and Only,” for which she received a 1983 Tony Award nomination for Best Costume Design.

"I fought like a cat to get this job for several reasons,” says Ryack. "I have been obsessed with<

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