RISE's winter show at the Stadium Theatre is "Hairspray". The Broadway show won 8 Tony Awards. It is based on the John Water's 1988 movie starring Divine and Ricki Lake. The show is set in Baltimore, Maryland in 1962 and is about Tracy Turnblad, a large girl who has big dreams and even bigger hair. Tracy has an abundant joie-de-vivre and rhythm in every part of her body. She will do whatever it takes and is determined to claim a spot on the Corny Collins show, a popular television dance show. She also wants to win the heart of Link Larkin, the show's resident dreamboat and turn the town upside down in her efforts to racially integrate television. Tracy must overcome Velma Von Tussle, the bigoted producer who is using the show to promote her untalented daughter, Amber. Velma only allows "Negro Day" once a month. Motormouth Maybelle hosts it and her son, Seaweed teaches Tracy the dance moves that she needs to win a spot on the show. Tracy is also helped along the way by her mother, Edna. a hardworking woman of epic proportions and enormous heart played by a man in drag as well as her father, Wilbur who owns a joke shop Har-dee-har-hut. Director Jason LeClair creates a high energy show from start to finish while music director Gordon Dell leads his 9 piece orchestra with him on lead keyboards and choreographer Ashley St. Sauver creates dazzling dance numbers to entrance the audience all night long. Their combined efforts win them a standing ovation at the close of the show.
Leading this cast is Rachel MacKenzie as Tracy. She makes this overweight girl into someone the audience can readily identify with and gains their love and admiration with her spunky and heartfelt portrayal. Her powerful voice is heard in her many numbers including "Good Morning Baltimore", which opens the show, "I Can Hear the Bells", a fall in love at first sight song and "You Can't Stop the Beat", where she triumphs over all odds. Michael Harrison stars as Tracy's loving mother, Edna and is a hoot in this role. Michael gets to sing and dance in "Welcome to the 60's", "Big, Blonde and Beautiful" where Edna is transformed from frump to lady fair and in "The Big Dollhouse" where all the women in town are in jail which turns into a dynamite tap dance number. Michael sings "Like me" at the end of it like Mama Rose in "Gypsy". One of the funniest numbers in the show is a vaudeville soft shoe called "Timeless to Me" which Michael does with John Pacheco who plays Wilbur. Their adlibs and patter during the number stops the show with its brilliance. John does a great job as the loving and supportive husband and father who wants both of his girls dreams to come true. He makes Wilbur standout in his scenes.
The most sensational voice in the show belongs to Maria Norris who plays Motormouth Maybelle. Her voice soars off the charts in her Gospel numbers. The first is "Big, Blonde and Beautiful" when she persuades Edna to appear on TV which closes the first Act. Her second number "I Know Where I've Been" which describes her experiences as a black woman where she encourages Tracy and the others not to give up, brings down the house with sustained applause and is a true show stopper. Brava! David O'Connell as Corny Collins, plays a Dick Clark type of character who can also sing and dance. He leads the kids in "The Nicest Kids in Town", at the sophomore dance, "The Madison where he discovers Tracy and in "Hairspray" before Tracy wins the contest. Dark and handsome Gian DiCostanzo plays Link Larkin, Tracy's dancing dreamboat. Link is an Elvis wannabe who is using the dance show to be discovered. Gian and Rachel sing It Takes Two" where he does terrific pelvic thrusts with curled lip reminiscent of Elvis and "Without Love". Gian does a terrific job as Link especially when he realizes that Amber and her mother are wrong in their bigoted way of thinking.
The villains of the show are the conceited, egotistical and bigoted Von Tussles. Karen DiOrio as Velma is the bitchy, slutty mother who will sleep with and blackmail anyone who tries to get in the way of making her untalented daughter a star. Her voice is heard in the sextet number "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now" and in the tango-like song "Baltimore Crabs" where she proclaims all women have to be beautiful to get anywhere in the world. Velma's snotty, spoiled daughter, Amber is excellently played by Courtney Contente. Unlike Amber, Courtney is very talented and she gets to throw temper tantrums as well as sing and dance as this spoiled brat. She leads the chorus in "Cooties" when she tries to defeat Tracy in the contest. Playing Tracy's shy best friend, Penny is Victoria Soucy. She sings and dances up a storm in this role in the sextet number, the jail number, "The Big Dollhouse", "Without Love" and in 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. Penny's true love is Seaweed played wonderfully by Nigel Richards. He possesses a fantastic voice and as Seaweed, displays it in "Run and Tell That", "Without Love" and in the finale. Nigel is also a dynamite dancer. Kalen Hughes does a stellar job as Little Inez, Seaweed's younger sister. She is sassy and fits the role beautifully. Kudos to the dancing and singing chorus, too. So for a look back to the fun and carefree days of the 1960's, be sure to catch "Hairspray" by the Rhode Island Stage Ensemble at the Stadium Theatre.