HAIRSPRAY STANDS UP AT STONC
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” a variety show that was extremely popular from 1957-1987, made TV history when it featured black and white teenagers dancing and singing together. Set in the ‘50’s, “Hairspray,” utilizes a similar TV show to illustrate not only the struggles to racially integrate the entertainment industry, but the acceptance of all talented people regardless of what the idealized entertainer is expected to look like. Following this trend, today we can point to the popular, TV program “Glee,” where talented kids of all races, sizes, shapes, sexual orientation and a wide variety of disabilities are also given a chance to perform. Summer Theatre of New Canaan follows suit with a mixed cast of talented performers and the show’s significant theme song, “You Can’t Stop The Beat” -- even in New Canaan!
“Hairspray,” which takes its name from the outrageous, beehive hairstyles of the 50’s, won several Tony Awards including “Best Musical.” The show’s, lively, “rock and roll” music was composed by Marc Shaiman who also wrote the lyrics with Scott Wittman. The story is about a girl named Tracy, who loves to dance and dreams about becoming a TV star on “The Corny Collins Show” -- only, she’s a highly unlikely candidate because of her weight problem. Beginning with her oversized, overpowering mother, she is discouraged all along the line from seeking an entertainment career. When Tracy finds herself the only white person in her high school’s “Special Ed” class, she becomes influenced by the highly spirited, free-moving, black culture. The teenager quickly learns some unique steps and for the first time becomes accepted for who she is and her talents. In a lighthearted, humorous way the story concerns changing attitudes and finding self-fulfillment.
This lively, entertaining production features a bouncy, sparkling, Rebecca Spigelman in the role of “Tracy.” Greg London, in drag, is outstanding in the role of her overpowering, yet loving mother, “Edna,” and Nick Reynolds is the colorful, sympathetic dad,“Wilbur.” Sharon Malane gets right into character as Tracy’s amusing friend, “Penny,” and De’Sean Dooley is absolutely charming as the hip-swaying, dance attraction, “Seaweed.” Deserving special mention are A’lisa Miles’ “Motormouth Maybelle” who captivates the audience with her powerful song, “I Know Where I’ve Been,” and arrogant, Jodi Stevens as “Velma von Tussle,” who makes sure that everyone knows that she and daughter “Amber” (Caroline Lellouche) come from “the right side of the tracks.” On Opening Night several male, supporting actors needed a bit more sparkle -- but it’s still early in the run. Although the audience laughed, we found the gassy, toilet jokes distracting and distasteful.
This is a full-scale production under the capable direction of Allegra Libonati, and features a rich-sounding orchestra directed by David Hancock Turner. Comfortable, tiered seating has been newly installed under the airy, all-weather tent at New Canaan’s Waveny Park and the viewing is great from everywhere. “Hairspray” contains constant dancing and the stage has been widened as well. Choreographer Doug Shankman, who was nominated several times for Connecticut Critics Circle Awards, has plenty of space to strut his stuff. You will have to restrain your hips and feet from keeping the beat.
“Hairspray” is perfect entertainment for the high school crowd, parents and grandparents (who will recall dancing “The Twist” and the crazy hairdos of the 50’s), plus, everyone who is curious about the naive culture that preceded the rebellious 60’s.
Plays to Aug. 3