Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Hairspray"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2010 by Tony Annicone

"Hairspray"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The closing summer show of Reagle Music Theatre's 42nd season is "Hairspray". Hairspray is a 1960's musical based on the 1988 John Waters movie which starred Ricki Lake and Divine. The original Broadway show won 8 Tony Awards, opened on August 15, 2002, ran for over six years and 2,642 performances, closing on January 4, 2009. The show is set in Baltimore in 1962 and is about teenager Tracy Turnblad, a large girl with big dreams and even bigger hair who has an abundant joie de vivre and rhythm in every inch of her body. She will do whatever it takes to claim a spot on the Corny Collins Show, a popular local television dance show which is based on the Buddy Deane Show, a Dick Clark-Bandstand clone, win the heart of Link Larkin, the show's resident dreamboat and turn the town upside down in her efforts to racially integrate television. The dance show has made stars out of the white kids from the local school but the show has "Negro Day" once a month due to the bigoted producer, Velma Von Tussle who is using her position to promote her untalented daughter, Amber. Tracy keeps getting detention from the principal for having big hair, meets Seaweed who teaches her the dance moves she needs to win a spot on Corny's show. Seaweed's mother, Motormouth Maybelle hosts the "Negro Day'' on TV and to thank Seaweed for his help, Tracy is determined to segregate the show. Tracy is also helped along the way as she transforms the world by her shy and plus sized mother, Edna, a hardworking woman of vast proportions and enormous heart portrayed by an actor doing a grand drag turn in this role and her father, Wilbur who runs a joke shop called Har-Dee-Har Hut. Edna rises like the phoenix from the Baltimore doldrums in a delightful transformation from frump to fashionista. Tracy's dreams are fulfilled and she wins the Miss Hairspray contest defeating Amber and her bitchy mother as well as integrating the dance show, proving "You Can't Stop the Beat". Laughter abounds as this unusual but heartwarming duo takes audiences on a roller coaster ride through the social mores of the sixties and is a social commentary on the injustices of parts of American society back then. Directors/choreographers Todd Michael Smith and Judine Somerville who are six year veterans of the Broadway "Hairspray" cast recreate Jerry Mitchell's original choreography. This sensational show is richly rewarded with a standing ovation by the entire audience at the curtain call and is the definite must see show of the summer season.

Todd and Judine know the show inside and out with their blocking and choreography reflecting it. They obtain stunning performances from their cast with high powered energy from start to finish with many show stopping moments along the way. Some of their dances include soft shoe, the twist and one of their best numbers is the tap dance number "The Big Dollhouse" which opens the second act.The songs include 1960's-style dance music and "downtown" rhythm and blues. Musical director Daniel Rodriguez taught the cast the multitude of songs in this show while Jeff Leonard leads the huge orchestra obtaining a fantastic sound from them as well as excellent harmonies from the cast, too. The multitude of colorful costumes and sets are by Music Theatre of Wichita. Leading this cast is Marissa Perry from the Broadway show stars as Tracy Turnblad. She is dynamite in this role and makes this overweight girl into someone the audience can immediately identify with. She gains their love and admiration with her spunky and heartfelt portrayal. Marissa's powerful voice excels in her many numbers including "Good Morning Baltimore" which opens the show, "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now" where she begs Edna to audition for the show, (Amber and Penny sing it to their respective mothers, too) "I Can Hear the Bells'', a fall in love at first sight love ballad and "You Can't Stop the Beat" where Tracy triumphs against all odds. She not only sings beautifully but dances up a storm. Marissa acts her heart out in this role, showing her prowess as an actress in this part. Dan Dowling Jr. stars as Edna Turnblad, Tracy's loving mother. He is a hoot in this role, stealing many scenes with his one liners and double takes. Dan gets to sing and dance in "Welcome to the 60's with three gals, Lovely Hoffman, Samantha Johnson and Kami Smith as the girl group trio "The Dynamites", singing and strutting their stuff like the Supremes. He also sings "Big Blonde and Beautiful" and "The Big Dollhouse" where all the women in town are in jail and at the end of this number Dan sings "For Me" like Mama Rose in "Gypsy". One of the funniest numbers is a vaudeville soft shoe called "Timeless to Me" which Dan does with John Macero who plays Wilbur. Their ad libs and patter during this number as well as their singing and dancing stop the show with its brilliance. John does a wonderful job as the loving and supportive husband and father who wants both of his girls dreams to come true. He puts up the bail for everyone by mortgaging his joke shop and disguises himself as Groucho Marx to fool Velma in one scene.

The most fantastic voice in this show belongs to Angela Birchett who plays Motormouth Maybelle. Her powerful voice soars off the charts in her bluesy gospel numbers. Her first song closes Act 1 "Big Blonde and Beautiful" where she encourages Edna to appear on TV and in the second she has the eleventh hour number "I Know Where I Have Been" which describes her experiences as a black woman, encouraging Tracy and everyone else not to give up. Angela stops the show with this song, leaving not a dry eye in the house with its powerful message of acceptance. Mark Linehan plays Corny Collins, a young Dick Clark type who can also sing and dance. His strong baritone voice leads the chorus in "The Nicest Kids in Town'', "The Madison" a sophomore dance where Corny discovers Tracy and "Hairspray" where Tracy wins the contest. Mark does a fantastic job and isn't afraid to stand up to his pain in the ass producer. Tall, dark and handsome Nick Paciero plays Link Larkin, Tracy's dancing dreamboat. Link is an Elvis wannabe who is using the dance show to be discovered. Nick is also a dynamic dancer who sings a lovely ballad to her called "It Takes Two" while strumming a guitar like Elvis and the romantic duet with Marissa called "Without Love" which Penny and Seaweed also sing. Link finally sees the light and joins Tracy in her quest. The villains of this show are the conceited Von Tussles. Susan Scanell, s gorgeous red head is Velma Von Tussle, the racist producer of the Corny Collins show who rejects Tracy because of her size as well as refusing a black girl, Little Inez. She wears a blonde wig as Velma. The character is a slutty, bitch mother who will sleep with and blackmail anyone who tries to get in the way of what she wants. Velma calls the police to arrest everyone at the end of Act 1 for trying to integrate her TV show. She is dynamite in this role as the scheming mother who will stop at nothing to see her daughter seek stardom that she never had. Her fantastic singing voice shines in the sextet part of "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now" and in the tango like song "Miss Baltimore Crabs" where she proclaims all women have to be beautiful to get anywhere in the world. Velma proclaims the Shirley Temple stole her friggin part and sings about Sammy Davis being black and a Jew in her song. She continues to sing as the curtain is falling, getting lower and lower as it descends. I first saw Susan in "The Robber Bridegroom" at Theatre by the Sea in 1977 and she went on to act in Ryan's Hope, Search for Tomorrow and Dynasty. Her snotty, spoiled daughter,Amber is well played by Stephanie Moskal. She captures the essence of this bratty, selfish resident princess and the main dancer on the Corny Collins show. Amber begs her mother to try out for Miss Hairspray in "Mama I'm a Big Girl Now" and in the second act sings "Cooties" to try and get more votes from the viewers because Amber is willing to do anything to win the pageant. Unlike Amber, Stephanie is very talented and she gets to throw a temper tantrums and dance and sing wonderfully. Playing Tracy's shy best friend, Penny is Merissa Czyz. She does an excellent job in this role of a dumb red head, shows off her powerful voice in the sextet number, the jail number, the romantic ballad "Without Love" and the finale where she is transformed into a hot looking babe and exclaims "I'm a pretty girl, mama" another line from "Gypsy" said by Louise.Her true love in the show is Seaweed played by Dayron Monroe. He possesses a phenomenal voice which he uses in "Run and Tell That", Without Love" and the finale and is a topnotch dancer, too. 12 year old Rebecca Policape plays Little Inez. She does a great job as Seaweed's dancing sibling. Rebecca is sassy and fits the role perfectly. Other scene stealers include Glen Michel as the principal, Mr. Pinky and Mr. Sprizter the sponsor of the Collins show, Katie Clark as the butch gym teacher and Penny's bigoted mother and Angela Richardson as the Matron who gets to sing some of the jazz section of "The Big Dollhouse. The singing and dancing chorus excel in this show. So for a fabulous version of this show, be sure to catch this blockbuster musical hit, "Hairspray" in Waltham,MA. Tell them Tony sent you. Run do not walk to the box office to obtain your tickets before they sell out.

"Hairspray" (12 - 22 August)
REAGLE MUSIC THEATRE
@ 617 Robinson Street, WALTHAM MA
1(781)891-5600

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