‘Hairspray’ is filled with hope, acceptance and a message you can dance to
- Written by Tina Farmer
With a teenage heroine full of pep and can-do pluckiness, the stage musical version of John Waters’ seminal 1980 film “Hairspray” has all the right elements for a life lesson wrapped in a good time. The spirited show captures all the energy and excitement of the original in a breezy, entertaining production.
Set in 1962, amid segregation, bigotry and a taste for change, the touring production at the Fabulous Fox Theatre introduces audiences to Tracy Turnblad, her mom Edna and father Wilbur. A teenager with a love of music, Tracy is devoted to Baltimore’s Corny Collins TV show and has a major crush on Link, the show’s hunky teen idol wannabe. When a spot for a new dancer on the show opens up, Tracy is determined to audition.
Tracy and her best friend Penny skip school and rush to the studio, arriving in the nick of time. Producer Velma Von Tussle refuses to allow Tracy to audition, because of her size, then immediately turns away Little Inez because of the color of her skin. Tracy is determined to get on the show, and to open the doors to everyone, every day. Full of charm and admirable naiveté, Tracy and her friends scheme their way onto the dance floor and into audience hearts. The show glosses over real social problems, but it keeps its heart and sensibilities firmly on the side of equality and acceptance.
Niki Metcalf is perky and peppy as the irrepressible Tracy Turnblad, and the range and expression in her voice perfectly compliment the role. Andrew Levitt, perhaps best known to audiences as Nina West from “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” is by turns homey, effervescent, glamorous and fiercely protective as mom Edna Turnblad. The slightly more youthful take works well as Edna flirts and cavorts with Christopher Swan’s earnest Wilbur.
Emery Henderson, Will Savarese, Brandon G. Stalling, and Kaléa Leverette shine as best friend Penny, the hunky Link Larkin, fellow dancer and detention regular Seaweed J. Stubbs and Little Inez. Billy Dawson is big smiles and hidden motives as an appealing Corny Collins, and he’s clearly on the side of Tracy and her friends without being the creepy adult. Sandie Lee holds the audience in the palm of her hand as the wise and witty radio personality Motormouth Maybelle.
Addison Gardner is an expertly coiffed villain as Velma Van Tussle. She mixes pithy platitudes, jokes about size and racism with ease as she attempts to maneuver daughter Amber, a pleasant turn by an appealing Kaelee Albritton, into the spotlight. Finally, Shante Clarke, Renée Reid and Nichelle Lewis make the most of their scenes as The Dynamites, creating memorable transitions and framing. The entire cast is full of youthful energy and hope, keeping the show’s tone positive and bright.
The songs, with music and arrangements by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman, capture the signature style of early rock and roll and pop music in 1962. From the hummable melodies of “Good Morning Baltimore,” “I Can Hear the Bells,” “Run and Tell That” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat” to the take charge power of “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,” “(The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crab” and “Big. Blonde and Beautiful,” the musical is packed with big, crowd-pleasing, feel good numbers.
Solid direction, by Matt Lenz, based on Jack O’Brien’s original production, and tight, well-synchronized choreography re-created by Michele Lynch from original choreography by Jerry Mitchell, reference the period and its fads with a light touch. Wigs and hair design, by Paul Huntley and Richard Mawbey hit the heights, literally and figuratively, adding visual humor that compliments the snappy dialogue. Though it is a wonder how the performers keep the wigs from slipping during the quick moving scenes and dances.
The musical version of “Hairspray,” continuing at the Fabulous Fox Theatre through April 9, has proven even more popular than John Waters original movie. Perhaps the songs were just the addition needed to help the message of acceptance hit the right notes and, hopefully, sink in. The show’s abundance of hope and positivity might help us all look at the world with a little more kindness for our fellow humans.