Theatre Mirror Reviews - "HAIRSPRAY, JR."

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Note: Entire Contents Copyright 2016 by Henryce Marie


Reviewed by Henryce Marie

Footlights Junior Division’s summer musical is Hairspray Jr., adapted from the Broadway production Hairspray, which won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. You can’t stop the beat in this bold and inspiring musical! It is 1962, we are in Baltimore, Maryland, and change is in the air. Tracy Turnblad and her best friend Penny Pingleton race home after school to watch “The Corny Collins Show,” a local teenage music and dance television show where Link Larkin rules as teen idol, with his girlfriend Amber Von Tussel by his side. When Corny Collins announces auditions for new Council Members, Tracy sees her chance for stardom and cuts school to audition for the show. But she is ridiculed by the girls on the show and dismissed by Amber’s mother and show producer, Velma Von Tussle. While in school detention, a frustrated Tracy learns some new dance moves from Seaweed Stubbs, a black student whose mother is Motormouth Maybelle, the DJ who hosts the monthly Negro Day on “The Corny Collins Show.” Putting her new moves to work, Tracy impresses Corny and finally earns a spot on his show. She quickly becomes a local star and the spokes girl for the clothing store, Mr. Pinky’s Hefty Hideaway, with her mother by her side. Back at school, though, Amber continues to tease Tracy, especially during dodge ball. Seaweed invites Tracy and her friends to his mother’s record shop for a night of fun, food, and dancing. The Von Tussles crash the party with their bigotry, which gives Tracy the idea to integrate “The Corny Collins Show.” Fear of police and jail don’t stop Tracy from moving forward with her plan for integration and desire for justice, which lands Tracy and her gang in jail. Tracy is denied bail, and Link comes to the rescue and professes his love for Tracy. A plan is hatched to get Tracy on the nationwide Miss Teenage Hairspray broadcast, hosted by Corny Collins. Mass pandemonium breaks loose on national TV, and “The Corny Collins Show” becomes officially integrated.

As the play opens, Baltimore comes alive as we are introduced to the city and its people with the rousing “Good Morning Baltimore,” sung by Tracy, played by very talented and spunky Emily Fleet, and the Ensemble. Emily’s powerful voice soars not only in this opening number, but in every song she sings, including “It Takes Two,” “Without Love,” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” Besides having the chops, this young lady has all the right dance moves; and her acting is top notch. She is a true triple threat. Emily has you loving Tracy from the moment she gets out of bed. Kudos to Miss Fleet!

We meet the “Nicest Kids in Town” on the Corny Collins Show. The Nicest Kids are a group of ten dancers on the show, and dance they can! They are a tirelessly energetic group of teens—Kara Kanuse, Desiree Levesque, Samantha Moreira, Casey Frazier, Kylie Howard, Ashton Peter, Guy Parenteau, Ryan Lewis, Edward Plante, and Nate Lebouf. They will have you clapping and dancing along with them in your seat, and their vocals will knock you off that same seat! Their smiles and spirit are exhilarating. Corny is aptly played by Nick Lannigan. He is the glue that holds the Corny Collins Show together, and he does it well, especially in “It’s Hairspray.”

The lead dancers on Corny’s show are Amber Von Tussle, played by Isabella Manchester, and Link Larkin, played by Matt Macy. Isabella, with hair so high you’re afraid she’ll tip over, is simply priceless in this role. She plays snooty and huffy to the hilt like no one’s business! Her facial expressions and body language are perfect and portray everything from phoniness to disdain to jealousy, and everything in between. This young lady is also a powerful singer, which is showcased in “She’s Got Cooties.” With his dashing good looks and smooth moves, Matt plays the ideal teen heartthrob. He’s the sugar in every girl’s tea, and he can pour on the charm like there’s no tomorrow. He sings ever so suavely with Tracy in “It Takes Two” and “Without Love.” Matt is simply a dream come true.

Amber’s mother, Velma Von Tussle, is played by Julia Ahaesy; and Tracy’s mother, Edna Turnblad, is played by Makenna Beaudoin. Julia plays Velma like a slinky snake in the grass. She is so good at it that she makes your upper lip curl. Her pretentiousness and pompousness are highlighted in her solo, “Miss Baltimore Crabs.” Makenna is compellingly engaging as Edna. She is solid and confident in this role, which she plays with pure gusto. Her acting is superb, as is her singing voice. Slade Alves is her husband Wilbur. He plays the doting dad who is always there for his daughter, as well as for his wife.

Tracy’s best friend is Penny Pingleton, played by Jillian Levesque, who is an absolute delight. She plays Penny as a bouncy, bubbly, and all-around effervescent teen. She is full of unending verve and gumption. Her beautiful voice shines in several of the songs. Everyone should have a best friend as wonderful as Jillian. Penny’s mom, Prudy, is played by Macayla Goulet with grit and determination. Macayla shows us what true single-mindedness looks like with her strong acting skills.

Seaweed, played by Derek Alexander and Little Inez, played by Alessandra Maldonado are the children of Motormouth Maybelle, played by Savannah DaSilva. Derek’s authenticity as Seaweed is unparalleled. He is full of life and fervor, and his singing (“Run and Tell That”) and dancing will have you tapping your toes. His portrayal of a great son and older brother is bona fide. Alessandra is a spirited ball of fire. She loves to dance, which she does splendidly. She plays soulful as it should be, and her fierce vocals are heard in “Run and Tell That.” Savannah portrays wisdom with class and grace. Her solo in “I Know Where I’ve Been” is passionate yet tender, touching, and emotional. It will surely leave you will a lump in your throat and maybe a tear in your eye.

The Dynamites are a vocal group that welcome you to the sixties! They are Jenna Howard, Victoria Richardson, and Eliana Massa; and they shimmer and sparkle with pizzazz! They come alive from a hole in the wall right before your very eyes. The remaining ensemble consists of nearly 50 kids ranging in age from 5 to 7 years old. They are an unstoppable mass of talent, stamina, and fun!

The Directors of this musical are Neil Jeronimo and Tricia Rodrigues, who are insanely brilliant to have brought Hairspray Jr. to life with nearly 80 children. Music Director Kasey Jeronimo is a gem with her own voice being that of a lark. Choreographer Brian-Barry Pereira’s talent shines in every dance number. Barry’s assistant is Kara Kanuse. The fruit of all of their labor are also showcased in “Momma I’m a Big Girl Now,” “The Big Dollhouse,” and the fabulous closing number, “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” Behind the scenes Stage Manager Kelly Soares keeps everything and everyone moving smoothly. Brandt Swanson, Set Designer/Supervisor, and his team brought the stage to life everlasting with Broadway-worthy sets. And Costume Designers Renee and Alice Fleet in no way can possibly be outdone. The never ending colors of sixties attire rocked the stage. A standing ovation to you all and to Sue Nichols-Nedar, Producer of Footlights Rep.

Do NOT miss this family friendly musical that celebrates diversity! It is loaded with great songs, energetic production numbers, laughter, romance, and sky-high hair!

BOXINFO: Three Performances: August 5th at 7 pm; August 6th at 2 pm and 7 pm
Morton Middle School, 1135 North Main Street, Fall River, MA
Tickets are available at the door or by calling 774-526-9972.

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