DRAPER — The summer musical season at the Draper Amphitheater is a long-standing annual tradition. Their latest production (the musical Hairspray) not only lives up to this tradition but may be the best show the Draper Arts Council has ever mounted. It is a truly outstanding night of theatre under the beautiful Draper stars.
Hairspray burst onto the musical scene in 2003 winning 8 Tony Awards and running on Broadway for 6 years. It is based on the cult classic 1988 film of the same name by director John Waters and starring Ricki Lake and the late Divine. With music by Marc Shaiman, lyircs by Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Hairspray does a remarkable balancing act of having both a powerful message and a bubbly aesthetic —while also giving audiences some of the catchiest tunes to ever appear in a Broadway musical.
And Hairspray isn’t just a one-message show. Young Tracy Turnblad and her adventures has something to say about civil rights, interracial relationships, gender, media, body positivity and the power of simply being a good person in our far too cynical world (and a little bit about love along the way). It is a rare musical where there is not a bad number in the show. No filler songs or bland ballads. Shaiman and Wittman managed to craft bop after bop making it impossible for audiences to leave any performance of Hairspray without tapping their toes.
The Draper Arts Council has taken this wonderful show and mounted a fantastic version the whole family will love. Director and choreographer Susan DeMill and music director Tricia Swanson have done an outstanding job in every respect. I struggled to find any flaws with the show.
The show begins with Linze Struiksma in her bed singing “Good Morning Baltimore” with energetic vocals. In Struiksma’s “day job,” she works as a high school drama teacher. Her overall performance as Tracy shows that she is a pro that lives musical theater — and high school — every day .
Chad Smith and Joey West alternate performances in the roles of Tracy’s parents, Edna and Wilbur Turnblad. This not only compels the audience to see the show twice, but it makes the actors’ chemistry flawless because they have lived in both roles. What an incredible effort on the part of the actors to learn all the lines and choreography of both Edna and Wilbur. I saw Smith as Edna and West as Wilbur, and they were outstanding especially in “Timeless to Me,” which brought down the house with uproarious applause.
Tracy is a huge fan of the fictional TV program The Corny Collins Show and longs to be a “council member” on the show. Weston Sinclair is great as Corny and all the ensemble members fantastically execute DeMill’s bubbly choreography. One of the most impressive parts of these Corny Collins Show scenes is the live camera shooting the performance, which is then projected on a screen made to look like a giant television upstage. This gave the feel of a dance show from the 1960s and was very clever.
Hairspray is a funny show with songs like “I Can Hear the Bells,” but it also can be quite moving. Genell Goodman crushes her role as Moutermouth Maybelle, particularly with “I Know Where I’ve Been.” I also enjoyed David Synal as Seaweed J Stubbs singing “Run and Tell That.” All the African Americans were excellent performers who created a moving story of refusing to accept any kind of prejudice, even on a dance show.
Austin Kimbell has a nerdy take on Link Larkin (Tracy’s crush on The Corny Collins Show). And Kaitlyn Schreiner steals every scene she is in with a very funny performance as Penny Pingleton. Schreiner and the rest of the girls are so much fun in the “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” number.
The sets by Vic Carsey and Dwight Western throughout the show are excellent, and Kirby Balding’s lighting design accented them well. I particularly enjoyed how the actors used the entire stage, even going out into the audience on occasion (another great element of “Timeless to Me”). The Mr. Pinky’s Plus Size Dress Shop set is memorable, with all the pink and fun needed for the “Welcome to the ’60s” number, which is an empowering song for the entire cast (especially Edna, who gets a makeover during the song).
Speaking of makeovers, the costumes by Sara Riches, Tracy Figueroa, and Kate Whiteley do not disappoint. The amount of looks created for each character including the large ensembles is truly remarkable. I especially loved all the 1960’s dresses, with lots of sparkly fabrics for songs like “You Can’t Stop the Beat” or the prison-inspired looks for “Without Love.” The hair and makeup by Warren Holz has another strength of the show, especially with Holz’s work in creating that big Tracy hair.
Getting the sound and microphones right in an outdoor amphitheater can also be tricky, but sound designer Adam Day excelled at this task. There was no problem hearing any of the performers and there were no hiccups in the microphones that I could hear.
It might seem like hyperbole, but I attend a lot of local shows, and I cannot think of when I have seen production better executed with more community spirit and expert craftmanship than Draper Arts Concil’s Hairspray. It is definitely one of the best productions I’ve seen in Salt Lake County so far in 2022 and worth a trip to Draper.