It’s true. Thanks to a big idea and an empathetic donor, audiences for Hairspray, the Broadway Musical, July 20 through Aug. 5, will — if this can be imagined — actually see a Near West Theatre summer show in relative comfort. For the first time ever, a rented air-c0nditioning system will cool the third floor of the St. Patrick’s Club Building.
For the past 34 summers, patrons have endured legendary heat and humidity during youth theater productions at 3606 Bridge Ave. Clad in tank tops, shorts, skirts, sun dresses and flip-flops, toting all manner of ice packs, hand fans, water bottles and personal mist-spritzers — all of which are approved at NWT! — patrons have still found it hard to stay comfortable. This year, with a week of record-setting heat leading up to opening night, Hairspray was becoming a headache.
Enter David Cooper, father of Hairspray musical director and actor Jordan Cooper (Edna Turnblad) — and himself a wig specialist who is helping out with the show. Having sat through an already-hot-enough May performance of Ragtime, David was, by July, feeling how much worse it can get. Another actor’s parent had suggested an air-conditioning rental, but the theater had found it prohibitively expensive. Then came a particularly brutal July 15 “Marathon Sunday” rehearsal. “The kids’ costumes were soaked through,” David says. “Their wigs were collapsing.” He told Executive Director Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek he would cover the lion’s share of the cost of making air conditioning work for the run of Hairspray. Counting equipment, installation, energy, insurance, and other costs, the total will run over $12,000. Through a contract with Mobil Air, Inc., of Brecksville, Ohio, two 12-ton-capacity units, plus generators to run them, were being set up under the fire escape outside the performance venue on Wednesday, July 18, two days before opening night. Ducts will run up to the third floor, and, affixed through windows, extract heat and humidity and cool the air.
Will it work? How cool will it really be? Audiences at opening-weekend performances on Friday, July 20, and Saturday, July 21, will be part of a grand, generous experiment. Personal cooling devices are still welcome. We just hope they won’t be needed. Tickets are available by calling 216-961-6391 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays or online anytime.