Yesterday, musical theater lost another unique voice. On Monday, librettist Mark O’Donnell died after collapsing in the lobby of his New York apartment. With co-writer Tom Meehan, O’Donnell crafted the books for musical adaptations of two John Waters films. The first, Hairspray (2002 with a score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) earned the librettists a Tony Award; the second, Cry-Baby (2008 with a score by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger) earned them another Tony nomination.
I was fortunate to attend the Seattle tryout of Hairspray and was awed by the audience reaction. Indeed, the show became one of a select few musicals in recent memory to capture popular imagination so vividly, leading a wave of teen musicals from High School Musical (2006) to Glee (2009), not to mention the careers of Zac Efron (the film Link Larkin) and Matthew Morrison (the Broadway Link Larkin).