MIDVALE — Hairspray is a musical that examines rock and roll and race relations through the character of Tracy Turnblad. She is a plus size teen with a plus size bouffant who longs to win a spot on the Corny Collins show and dance her way into the arms of teen heart-throb, Link Larkin. The show is set in Baltimore in the year 1962 at a time when integration was on every ones minds but not on teenage song and dance television . . . yet.
On the TV show, “Negro Day” comes only one day a week, but if Tracy had her way, “Everyday would be Negro Day!” Her determination to integrate the show lands her in jail with little hope of getting out before her hair falls much less getting to the studio in time to compete for Teen Queen. Hairspray has a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman.
The performances of this highly energetic ensemble were engaging and entertaining. I was hoping to see the bigger than life characters of Tracy and her mother, Edna, come to life on stage and I was not disappointed. Kat Stoutsenberger was born to be Tracy. Her bubbly infectious personality beamed as she performed flawlessly. Her dancing and singing was top notch, as was her comedic timing. She gave a very honest performance which I enjoyed very much, especially in the song “I Can Hear the Bells” and the closing number “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”
The role of Edna Turnblad is set to be performed by a man dressed as a woman. Russ McBride portrayed Edna as well as I hoped. Larger than life, McBride succeeded in entertaining the audience with his comedic performance as he received the loudest and longest laughs from the audience. Shawnee K. Johnson gave a wonder performance as Amber Von Trussle, the girl you love to hate.
Other cast members were more caricatures than characters. But that didn’t impede the actors. I enjoyed the portrayals of the nerdy, XXL personality in the skinny body of Wilbur Turnblad (Eric McGraw), the gum chewing side kick, Penny Pinkleton (Cassidy Ross) and the beauty queen stage mother/producer Velma Von Tussle (Sara McDonald). All of these actors gave performances which gave variety, color and energy to the show. I also thought that the singing parts of Link Larkin (Nathan Leach), Amber Von Trussle (Shawnee K. Johnson), Corny Collins (Richard Johnson), and Little Inez (Madi Zeller) were executed well. The talented Leah Jacobs playing the part of Motormouth Maybelle belted out a soulful rendition of “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” and “I Know Where I’ve Been.”
The Midvale Theatre is a small venue and as such presents a challenge for a creative team. In spite of this, the Music director (Wendy Dahl-Smedshammer), director (Tammy Ross), and choreographer (Missy Mofford) imagined a wonderful show. Set designers Ryan Honeycutt, Kassidy Cleland, Jan Harris and Stephan Ross constructed, designed and painted the sets for Hairspray. They used minimal pieces to suggest the scenes such as an ironing board and a coffee table with a TV on it for the Turnblad home. A spot light, a counter for Corney with signs that said “Corney Collins” and “ON AIR” quickly depicted the recording studio. Projections were also used to depict some of the locations, like the front of Tracy’s home and the record shop. Some of the scenes took place behind the projection screen which presented a problem with the flow of the show since the motor on the screen was slow the scene changes dragged a bit. I felt the sound quality could have been better if the wireless microphones had been equalized to the music levels. However, the music cues in this production were executed very well.
The costumes (coordinated by Jan Harris) varied from perfect period clothes (in both color and style) to others looking like they were thrown together at the last minute. Edna’s costumes from head to toe had a lot of detail from “her” wigs to “her” pumps. I especially liked the wigs that were used in the show. Amber’s super, duper bouffant in the final scene was hilarious. Some of the lighting was a little dark with the projections on the actors which distracted from the scenes. Other lighting cues were very effective in defining the different scenes. Two places where the cues were done well were during the mother daughter moments going from Penny’s house to Amber’s to Tracy’s in the same song and Tracy’s solo when she was in jail.
For an evening full of fun, corny humor and adorable energetic acting, don’t miss Hairspray. It will transform you back to a time when black and white became Technicolor®.