Center Stage: Don’t miss ‘Hairspray’ — It’s phenomenal!
Yes indeed, if you need a surefire blast-from-the-past musical fix, then “Hairspray” is the show for you. “Hairspray”” is the blockbuster, feel-good musical that is currently rockin’ the rafters at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre till Nov. 20. This Broadway musical, adapted from the 1988 movie of the same name starring Warren Beaty, arrived at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre in August 2002 to rave reviews. With music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, this current offering at the Palm is as entertaining as the Broadway original. And, let me say right off, the cast is first rate, especially Danielle Arci as Tracy Turnblad. Danielle was last seen at the Palm in “The High School Musical” after having performed “Hairspray” in a national tour through 38 States and Canada. She also played the role of Tracy for President Obama this October in a White House presentation, and was featured on TV’s Special Performance Series on PBS. But, let’s get on with the show.
The show’s plot invites the question Can a plus-sized teen heroine find happiness by vanquishing Corny Collins’ TV dance show’s WASP reigning, teen dance princess, integrate the show and find true love (all while singing and dancing) without mussing up her mile high beehive hairdo? That’s a tall order, but not for our intrepid Tracy.
Our Tracy dreams of being a professional dancer, or at least a dancer on the Corny Collins Show (which has a “Negro Day” once a month but is otherwise segregated). Tracy and her friend Penny (the amusing Lisa LeCuyer) watch the show every day and drool over a dreamy Elvis wannabe, Link Larkin (Michael-Kennen Miller).The show will be hosting a contest, the Miss Ultra Clutch Hairspray award,with a prize going to the most popular dancer on the show.
When the show auditions for a new dance replacement Tracy and Penny apply by cutting classes. The girls are badly dished at the audition by the Nicest Kids in Town led by the blonde bombshell WASP princess, Amber Von Tussle (played to the nastiest hilt by Lara Hayhurst) and her mom, Velma Von Tussle (a former Miss Baltimore Crabs, who also happens to produce the show — the ever amazing and extremely talented choreographer/actress, Amy Marie McCleary).
Meanwhile, back at the high school’s detention class, Tracy learns some cool new dance moves from the black kids, led by Seaweed J. Stubbs (Walter Kemp the coolest dancer, ever seen on the Broadway Palm stage. Wow, can this guy ever move!). Segueway to the high school’s Sophomore Hop where our Tracy gets noticed by both Corny Collins and Link, “the teen hunk.” Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am — she’s on the show,and Link is smitten… which frosts Princess Amber as well as her nibs, the show’s producer and Amber’s mommy. As Tracy gets popular with the fans and offers start pouring in, our girl needs an agent; she chooses her mom, Edna (another plus-sized fem,with a heart of gold and a foghorn voice that blows you away). Edna is a wonderful character played in drag by a fine actor/singer, the bigger-than-life campy Chuck Caruso.
Meanwhile, back at school, Seaweed and the gang invite Penny, Link and Tracy to a platter party at his mom’s record shop, Motormouth Maybelle’s (played by muscle-voiced, show-stopping,- Nedgra Culp). It’s at this successful, integrated dance party that everyone decides to integrate the TV show during Mother-Daughter Day, but a riot breaks out instead and everyone is carted off to jail at the end of Act I.
Just as in every fairy tale, Act I ties everything together nicely — girl gets boy, girl also wins the prize as everyone from the right and the wrong sides of the tracks makes up and dances together, even princess Amber and mean momma, and the Corny Collins Show becomes officially integrated.
What is so appealing about this rock musical is that it manages to be humorous and relevant at the same time. It is the ultimate celebration of “outsiders” — plus sized people, blacks, even cross-dressers; all of whom are shown to be as good, if not better, than the straight folks trying to put them down.
As I’ve stated before, I was blown away by Danielle Arci as Tracy, also the not-accharine or schmaltzy right-on performance of Chuck Caruso as Edna’s mom, the nice transition of Lisa LeCuyer from geek to glamour girl after hooking up with Seaweed Stubbs (portrayed by that astonishing dancer Walter Kemp). Raves and kudos go to the ever-amazingly gifted Amy Marie McCleary (as the mean, beauty queen Miss Baltimore Crabs, Velma Von Tussle). McCleary’s choreography seems to encompass every style of 1960s dance, but it is done with such love and pizzazz that it never gets old.
The impressive near-gospel sound of Nedgra Culp doing “I Know Where I’ve Been” stopped the show, while Michael Miller was perfect as the teen idol singer and male lead, Link Larkin. Praise too for some of the feature players — Paul Crane as Wilbur Turnblad (Tracy’s supportive dad), Lara Hayhurst seethed with proper aplomb as the WASP princess, Amber Von Tussle.
I must also note the three superlative Motown singers, The Dynamites featuring Erica Covington, Ayana Bey, and Marisha Wallace. Bravos, too, all around to the rest of the dancers and actors in this grand cast.
As usual, Director Brian Enzman has done another fine job of keeping the show zipping along with his high-energy, fast-paced staging of the musical numbers as well as the dramatic scenes. The colorful, quick-changing set designs by Robert Kovach couldn’t have been more perfect as were the costumes by John White. But who did the awesome, hilarious wigs? they were a comedy comment all on their own.
No matter what, “Hairspray” is a toe-tapping, finger-snapping blast from the past that should under no circumstances be missed, especially if you are a fan of ’50s and ’60s dance music. The show has that kind of playful energy that will brighten your evening; it certainly did mine. Sooooo, run do not walk to the nearest phone and dial the Broadway Palm’s box office at 278-4422 for your reservation, aand do it soon. The show only plays till Nov. 20th. Remind ’em Marsha sent you.
Now for a bit of shameless self promotion — Marsha will be back teaching Pilates Plus Exercises (for all levels) at Big Arts starting next week, Tuesday, Nov. 16 at 9 a.m. on the Schein Hall stage.
Phone Big Arts to register 395-0900 or just show up at class in comfortable clothes (towel and water optional); mats are supplied or bring your own.
Get ready to stretch, and work your body as we have fun rockin’ and rollin’ to the beat of drums.