IVINS — A lyric sung by a character named Seaweed, sums up the heart of Hairspray: “I can’t see the reason it can’t be the kinda world where we all get our chance. The time is now and we can show them how to turn the music up and let’s all dance.” In a story about loving who we are, accepting the differences of others and dancing all the while, Hairspray (brought to you by the creative team of Mark O’Donnell, Thomas Meehan, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittmann) playing at Tuacahn Amphitheater is a toe-tapping fun night on the town.
In case you missed the movie or the many recent Utah productions of the play, Hairspray is a high-energy fun show that be-pops with early 1960’s-style music. At first glance, it’s a lighthearted romp through the age of beehive hairdos and lots of hairspray. Yet, this story is not your typical fluffy musical. Hairspray does a beautiful job of relaying a message of kindness without it coming across as preachy or yet another story on civil rights. Instead, the audience watches a young girl who loves life too much to see the ugliness of it, and because of her example we want to follow where she goes. The show opens with young bright Tracy Turnblad (played by the beautiful Joline Mujica) brightly welcoming in the day with “Good Morning Baltimore.” The opening scene was everything it should be with lovely characters, a fun turntable set and even a real bus and car.
Despite the lighthearted beat of the music, it quickly becomes apparent that Hairspray takes place in a community full of prejudice, discrimination and intolerance. However, with Tracy’s positive outlook on life and the other colorful characters in the play, the audience is guided through the story with a whole lot of over the top fun, including a character actually named Corny Collins (played by Chris Warren Gilbert, who had a voice like butter).
Director and choreographer Derryl Yeager did a fantastic job in pulling this cast together and producing some fun and creative choreography. The stagings of “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” and “I Can Hear the Bells” (as well as several other numbers) were more than just dance numbers. Instead, these scenes incorporated elements of energized story telling outside of traditional dance steps. With a fresh take on the staging of Hairspray, it was fun to see this tightly knit group dance the night away.
Seaweed, played by Randy Aaron, is a dynamic character. The lyric quoted at the beginning of this review was from “Run and Tell That” a production number that Aaron perfectly executed. In an exciting, dance packed vocal number with an awesome message, he completely energized me. When he also sang amazing vocal passages at the end of the song, I was enthralled. Moreover, Seaweed’s relationship with Penny (Noelle Marion), the hilariously funny, gum chewing awkward best friend of Tracy was completely endearing and fresh. Marion and Mujica were a perfect pair, naively yet determinedly knocking down barriers of intolerance as only best friends can.
Playing opposite Mujica was love interest Link Larkin played by James Royce Edwards, another talented actor whose charisma was apparent as he danced on the Corny Collins show. It was a real treat to watch Link and Tracy fall in love and my heart broke just a little as Link’s resolve faltered on the eve of a protest.
Paul C. Vogt brilliantly played Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s agoraphobic overweight mother. Vogt originally played this role on Broadway and does a fantastic job reprising Edna for the Tuacahn production. “Timeless to Me,” which Edna sings and dances with Wilbur Turnblad (Bob Walton) was probably the most authentic number of the evening. The duo was so dynamic and fresh that I was left wondering if some of this scene was improvised. Their joy on stage was so contagious that the audience was laughing, not because they were hilarious, but because they were just having so much fun. It was a true honor to watch these two on stage.
With the exception of a handful of missed sound cues, the sound design (David Swenson) at Tuacahn is something special. They have a live orchestra, but they are actually located off to the side of the stage in an isolated room. It lends to the outdoor theater because this way the audience doesn’t hear the wind in their microphones. The lighting (Bruce L. Duerden) was especially well done in the scenes with Velma Von Tussle (played by Erika Amato), the producer of the Corny Collins show. Between the dynamic Amato and the evil lighting, these scenes highlighted the unpleasant feelings associated with this vile character.
The scene transitions in this production need some reworking, as the movement of the heavy sets could often be heard backstage. Moreover, the stage’s backdrop was semi-transparent, and being able to see props wheeled by at times was distracting. Also, there seemed to have be a malfunction with one of the set pieces, and the audience could hear the power tools used to fix the breakdown backstage. However, the item was quickly restored to working order and the problem never distracted the performers.
Overall, Hairspray is a musical that is fun, family friendly and teaches the value of believing in yourself and being kind to others. Tuacahn’s production is perfectly enjoyable, even with a few minor technical mishaps.