“Hairspray” at the Summer Theatre of New Canaan thru August 3
By Tom Nissley
I finally got to see “Hairspray” on July 13, and was blown away. If you haven’t been there yet, call 203-966-4634 and order your tickets, or go to www.STONC.org, and buy them online.
The story of “Hairspray” is simple. In the Baltimore of 1962 a chubby girl named Tracy (Rebecca Spigelman) with grey collar working class parents (Greg London and Nick Reynolds) rushes home from school every day with her friend Penny (Sharon Malane) to watch the Corny Collins teen-age dance show on TV. There’s an opening for a student on the show and Tracy wants to audition. Because she’s chubby (and Jewish, too), she’s laughed at by the show’s director, Velma (Jodi Stevens) a pushy mom from the “right side” of town, and her daughter, Amber (Caroline Lellouche). But when Tracy learns a few dance steps from Seaweed (DeSean Dooley), a black student who befriends her, Corny Collins (Andrew J. Mauney) signs her on and Tracy becomes a teen celebrity. In the push to integrate the TV show, with help from Seaweed’s mom, Motormouth (Alisa Miles) and sister, Inez (Brittany Nicholas) almost everyone’s nasty side surfaces, but Tracy and her boyfriend Link (a steamy Nick Pankuch) convince the crowd to calm down, do the right thing, and move forward with the inevitable change.
My favorite line in the show is spoken by Penny’s mom, Prudy (KeLeen Snowgren), when she finds Penny kissing Seaweed in their home. “Oh -- he’s black -- now I’ll never sell this house.” I like it because a legendary local Realtor in the same period thought it her responsibility to keep Jews and Blacks from settling in New Canaan. Today the Realtors’ code firmly says and does otherwise.
But back to this production of “Hairspray.” The cast, 35 persons full, is absolutely solid and professional, and so much of the action is by the company that it is important to start the praise by lauding all of them together. That is especially so in big song and dance numbers that are done with overwhelming precision, and the words Director, Musical Director, and Choreographer quickly float to the surface because a team consisting of Allegra Libonati (director), David Hancock Turner (musical director), and Doug Shankman (choreographer) have honed this company to perfection that begins with the first newspaper thrown and an old woman crossing the street with the help of a policeman in the early minutes of “Good Morning Baltimore” and continues to the final bursts of energy, ALL in sync, in “I know where I’ve been,” and “You can’t stop the beat!” I’m nominating the three of them for awards right now and watching their work you’ll see them win several times over.
I do have special praise for featured performers, too, beginning with Sharon Malone, whose Penny is so alive and vibrant, and Greg London and Nick Gould, the parents of the year. Each is wonderful, Greg as the hard-working lower class Edna, who blooms into her own large self, and Nick, so perfect as Wilbur, the novelty inventor whose life is focused on Edna and Tracy. Jodi Steven’s Velma is a tour de force, and Brian Silliman’s character bits are solid. Keleen Snowgren is flexible and fun as Penny’s mom and the warden at the women’s prison. Rebecca Spigelman as Tracy, DeSean Dooley as Seaweed, Brittany Nicholas as Inez, and Nick Pankuch, as the very sexy Link Larkin, are each terrific. Andrew J. Mauney’s Corny Collins is lively too. And finally, rich thanks to Alisa Miles for her beautiful and powerful lead in “I know where I’ve been,” which brought tears to this reviewer’s eyes.
New Canaan is lucky to have the Summer Theatre, and especially to have this superb production. Use that phone number now.
Tom Nissley, for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre
July 14, 2014