Hairspray

by Rosalind Friedman

There’s a hot time in the Ivoryton Playhouse, right now, which is outdoing itself with a razzle-dazzle production of Hairspray. This high-energy musical, written by Mark O’Donnell, Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman, is based on the outrageous 1988 film written and directed by John Waters. It won all the awards on Broadway and in London in 2003, and it will certainly be a contender for Connecticut Critic Circle awards come next June.

 

Ivoryton’s Executive/Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard has put together a pluperfect cast of 24, costumed wildly by Vivianna Lamb, directing them with panache. It is no wonder that she could not pick up her Tom Killen award for Outstanding Contribution to Ct Theatre at the recent awards ceremonies at the Mark Twain House in Hartford; she was rehearsing!

 

Assisting her in this grand effort are Musical Director John Sebastian DeNicola and Choreographer and Assistant Director JR Bruno. Scenic Designer Cully Long has used every inch of the small space lit by Marcus Abbott to create the essence of Baltimore in the 1960’s and the turmoil the world was in at that time. On one side of the stage is a tall frame which shows hundreds of videos -- at times this is too busy and distracting -- conflicting with the action on stage -- at others, particularly when it is showing the struggle for integration, i.e. the Klu Klux Klan and Martin Luther King, it is emotionally effective.

 

The premise of Hairspray centers around Tracy Turnblad, a chubby teenager with a big dream: to appear on the Corny Collins rock and roll TV show, to win a dance contest, to capture the heart of handsome Link Larkin, and to integrate the show. Jill Sullivan, not yet a member of Actors Equity, sings and dances well, giving her all to the role of Tracy, a student with teased hair and always in trouble; she makes us care about her, her family and her plight. Michael Barra is a marvelous Edna, Tracy’s enormous stay-at- home mom, who finds a new life. Neal Mayer is a reliable Wilbur, Tracy’s sympathetic father.

 

Abby Hart is a skinny wiggly Penny Pingelton, Tracy’s best friend, who is hog-tied by a repressive mom, Prudy, played with spirit by Melissa McLean. Gregory Lawrence Gardner as Seaweed J. Stubbs, an African/American high school student is a standout. Justin Gerhard is a very attractive love-interest Link; does anyone remember the original part was played by Matthew Morrison, now the star of TV’s “Glee.” Sam Schrader keeps things moving as Corny Collins.

 

But it is Karen Anderson, beautiful as Motormouth Maybelle, who, in two numbers, “Big, Blonde and Beautiful,” and “I Know Where I’ve Been,” brings down the house and raises the level of Hairspray. She reminds us of the late, great, Eartha Kitt.

 

From “GOOD MORINING BALTIMORE” to “ YOU CAN’T STOP THE BEAT,” Hairspray is a delight. Playing now through July 29 in Ivoryton.

 

(This review originally aired on WMNR Fine Arts radio)

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