note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
The Reagle Theatre of Greater Boston’s rollicking, vivacious production of “Hairspray” presents dichotomies for theatergoers that are exciting, especially for local folks.
The musical is a fabulous romp back to 1962. It's set in Baltimore, Md., when rock ‘n’ roll, bouffant hairdos, TV dance parties, sock hops, and --- unfortunately --- racism and societal put-downs ruled. For those of us who were teenagers then, we remember those tunes that spawned harmonic and rhythmic groups, the emergence of Motown moves and song, rocking around the clock, and silently segregated dances in high school gyms.
For my granddaughters Jacquie, 15, and Jamie, 12, they don’t dig some of the lingo in “Hairspray,” and the negative social mores of the ‘60s seem fictitious. They love the musical score, though, and were thrilled to meet two Broadway stars whose songs they play repeatedly on their Ipods - Reagle’s co-directors and co-choreographers, Todd Michel Smith and Judine Somerville. The duo appeared together in “Hairspray” throughout its seven-year run on Broadway and have recreated Jerry Mitchell’s original dance routines in Waltham. Every number is so energetic and upbeat, the audience becomes breathless just watching this cast.
Another huge plus is Reagle has combined excellent area talent with topnotch, accomplished performers who had less than two weeks to rehearse, but interact as though they’ve known each other a lifetime. Such is the case with veteran performer- director-producer-educational theater writer Dan Dowling Jr., in the lead role of agoraphobic, plus-size Edna Turnblad, and Winthrop resident-Revere A.C. Whelan School principal, John Macero, as Edna’s adoring husband, Wilbur Turnblad. Macero is no stranger to the stage. He and wife, Trudy, co-own the Winthrop School of Performing Arts, and Macero has earned high marks performing in several community theaters; but his appearance at Reagle with this star-studded cast is climatic.
At a post-show reception, Macero - who is a funny, talented song-and-dance man, praised working with Dowling, who, in turn, praised Macero. Dowling said he had never performed in “Hairspray” before, or in high heels and big wigs. He confided last Friday night that he had a few uncomfortable incidents, dancing with a split high heel during a number in the first-act; enduring a wardrobe malfunction when his dress unzipped and was coming apart during one of his eight, rapid costume changes; and balancing a falling wig (all which were barely detectable to the audience). Unfazed, he praised Reagle’s cast and crew, especially Macero, calling him a warm, wonderful person to work with. Their chemistry ignited their comedic, romantic duet, “You’re Timeless to Me,” one of the show’s most popular numbers.
And TV-stage star Susan Scannell, who portrays self-centered,self-serving stage mother, Velma Von Tussle, said she enjoys co-acting with her “daughter,” Stephanie Moskal, 20, another Winthropite. The pretty, talented performer shines in the key role of Sharpay-type teen-age meanie, Amber Von Tussle, foil to star Marissa Perry’s chubby, idealist champion, Tracy Turnblad.
In turn, Moskal praised Scannell, the directors and cast. Moskal isn’t a new face on Boston and area stages, or at Reagle Theatre. She performed there twice in recent past.
Every number and scene in “Hairspray” is a treasure, and the overall, large cast is superb. Nick Peciaro is outstanding as Link Larkin, Amber’s ambitious singing-dancing boyfriend and TV dance party idol. So is Marissa Perry, who looks too lightweight to carry her role as the chubby, teen-age social reformist, but she pulls her own weight here.
Kudos to amazing Angela Birchett, a late replacement for Debra Thais Evans in the show-stopping role of big, black Motown Mama, Motormouth Maybelle. Birchett rocked the house with her soulful rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been,” and inspiring “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful”.
Mark Linehan as TV show host Corny Collins; Merissa Czyz as Tracy’s overly-protected pal, Penny Pingleton; Davron S. Monroe as Penny’s boyfriend-Motormouth’s dancing son, Seaweed J. Stubbs, are noteworthy, and the ensemble pumps out heart-stopping, blood-pumping numbers.
The pop art set is fun, and the orchestra, led by Music Director Daniel Rodriguez and conductor Jeffrey P. Leonard, is fantastic.
Bringing Jacquie and Jamie to “Hairspray” as a pre-back-to-school treat was the perfect gift, enabling us to share the fun all the way home - and Jacquie didn’t even have to turn on her Ipod. You can’t stop the beat!
BOX INFO: Two-act multi-award-winning musical, book by Mark O’Donnell, Thomas Meehan, music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, appearing at the Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston, 617 Lexington St., Waltham, through August 22, starring Broadway’s Marissa Perry, Dan Dowling Jr., with Winthropites Stephanie Moskal and John Macero. Performances are August 22, at 2 p.m.; August 21,22, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, $35-$57., child 5-18, $25; with adult, $10; seniors, $2 discount. Call 781-891-5600 or visit www.reaglemusictheatre.com.