Tony Award-winning actor changes some of musical’s jokes for Sin City

LAS VEGAS – When Harvey Fierstein came to Las Vegas, he knew the Mamie Eisenhower joke had to go.

The Tony Award-winning actor wrote 15 jokes to replace it for the Las Vegas version of the musical “Hairspray,” the latest Broadway hit to find a home on the Strip. The show opened Wednesday at the Luxor hotel-casino.

In the gender-bending role of housewife Edna Turnblad, Fierstein usually deadpans: “I haven’t been out of the house since Mamie Eisenhower rolled her hose and bobbed her bangs.”

But in Sin City, the joke became: “I haven’t been out of the house since Wayne Newton’s voice changed.”

“We thought Mamie Eisenhower might be a little obscure for the Vegas audience,” Fierstein told The Associated Press. The Wayne Newton replacement joke won over local audiences in previews, he said.

“It’s the simplest and it’s the most direct,” he said. “We sort of let the audience choose.”

The joke is just one of several changes the show’s creators made to the production that began on Broadway with Fierstein in August 2002 and went on to win eight Tony Awards. The show is a stage adaptation of John Waters’ 1988 cult film, set in 1962 in Baltimore, about a chubby girl who achieves her dream of dancing on, then racially integrating, a local sock-hop TV show.

The stripped-down Vegas version is a nonstop 90 minutes, compared with the 2-hour, 20-minute Broadway original, which included intermissions.

Luxor chief executive Felix Rappaport said he wanted a show that made people feel good. The lack of intermissions also helps prevent people from wandering off midway to play slots.

“I think this particular show is an ideal show for Las Vegas. It’s funny, it’s lively,” Rappaport said, adding that the show’s creators are hooked on the shorter version. “They love this version so much they’ve even talked about doing it on Broadway.”

“We didn’t want to show it was shorter, we wanted to show it was better,” Las Vegas show producer Myron Martin said.

Fierstein, who had never been to Las Vegas before, and co-star Dick Latessa, who plays husband Wilbur Turnblad, will stay with the show for the first 12 weeks. Rappaport said “Hairspray” had been booked for at least a four-year run.

Fierstein said he looks forward to sightseeing, shopping for antiques, hosting out-of-town friends and relatives, writing and commuting to Los Angeles to do a voice-over for an animated film. He’s also interested in Las Vegas taking on a role as the western hub for big theatrical productions.

“Mamma Mia!” began its run at Mandalay Bay in February 2003, while “Avenue Q” opened at Wynn Las Vegas in September and will close there May 28. “The Phantom of the Opera,” is coming to The Venetian this year and “Monty Python’s Spamalot” is headed to the Wynn next year.

“I’m as curious as anyone else how this whole ‘Broadway in Las Vegas’ is going to work out,” Fierstein said.