Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Hairspray"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2011 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The third show of Theatre by the Sea's 78th 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. 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 by 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. Russell Garrett returns in triumph to direct and choreograph this sensational musical while Frederick Willard not only music directs the show but plays lead keyboard and conducts the orchestra too. This outstanding production is richly rewarded with a standing ovation by the entire audience at curtain call, making it the definite must see show of the summer season.

Ocean State Theatre Company, the not for profit producing entity at the historic Theatre by the Sea, hires brilliant technical staff for this show especially the multitude of Marcia Zammerelli's gorgeous authentic 1960's costumes that are breathtaking and a topnotch set by Bert Scott which includes a jail cell, a dance floor and a giant hairspray can. Russell obtains stunning performances from his cast with high powered energy from start to finish with many show stopping moments along the way. His blocking and choreography is spectacular. Some of his dances include soft shoe, the twist and one of the best dance numbers in the show, the tap dance in "The Big Dollhouse" which opens the second act. The songs include 1960's-style dance music and "downtown" rhythm and blues. Fred taught the cast the multitude of songs in this show, leads the orchestra while playing lead keyboards. He also obtains a fantastic sound from the orchestra as well as excellent harmonies from the cast, too. Leading this cast is Erin McCracken as Tracy Turnblad. She is dynamite in this role and makes this overweight girl into someone the audience can immediately identify with. Erin gains their love and admiration as this underdog character with her spunky and heartfelt portrayal. Erin's powerful voice excels in her many numbers including "Good Morning Baltimore" which opens the show as she is laying on a revolving bed, "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 when she first meets Link with the chorus holding bells in their hands doing a dynamic dance and "You Can't Stop the Beat" where Tracy triumphs over all odds. She not only sings excellently but dances up a storm. Erin acts her heart out in this role, showing her prowess as an actress in this part. Local favorite Tom Gleadow 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. Tom gets to sing and dance in "Welcome to the 60's with three gals, Sydni Beaudoin, Kimberly Lowe and Roslyn Seale as the girl group trio "The Dynamites'', singing and strutting their stuff like the Supremes. Tom 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 he sings "For Me" like Mama Rose in "Gypsy" while holding the jail doors in his hands. Tom usually plays dramatic and comic roles at the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket so it is a treat to see him do this drag role to show off his acting prowess. One of the funniest numbers is a vaudeville soft show called "Timeless to Me" which Tom does with Sean McGuirk who plays Wilbur. Their ad libs and patter during this number as well as their singing and dancing stop the show with its brilliance. Sean does a terrific 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 Yvette Monique Clark 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 act 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. Yvette stops the show with this song, leaving not a dry eye in the house with its powerful message of acceptance. Jay Leland Krottinger 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.Jay who has blond hair and blue eyes does a fantastic job as Corny, showing off his strong dancing skills in this role, too. He also shows that Corny isn't afraid to stand up to his pain in the ass producer. Tall, dark and handsome Zach Trimmer plays Link Larkin, Tracy's dancing dreamboat. Link is an Elvis wannabe who is using the dance show to be discovered. Zach has a terrific tenor voice and is also a dynamite dancer who sings a lovely ballad to Tracy called "It Takes Two" while strutting around like Elvis and the romantic duet with Erin 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. Rebecca Gibel, a gorgeous blonde 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. 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 topnotch in this role as the scheming mother who will stop at nothing to see her daughter seek the stardom that she never had. Her fabulous soprano 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 sings that Shirley Temple stole her friggin part as well as Sammy Davis being black and a Jew in this song, too. I last reviewed Rebecca and Tom in "A Doll's House" at Gamm Theatre. Her snotty, spoiled daughter, Amber is beautifully played by gorgeous blonde, Rosalie Burke. She captures the essence of this bratty, selfish resident princess who is the main dancer on the Corny Collins show. Amber begs her mother to try out for the Miss Hairspray in "Mama I'm a Big Girl Now" and in the second act tries to get more votes from the viewers because she is willing to do anything to win the pageant. Unlike Amber, Rosalie is very talented and she gets to throw temper tantrums as well as sing and dance wonderfully. Playing Tracy's shy best friend, Penny is Alexa Shanahan. She does a terrific job in this role of a dumb bulb, shows off her powerful voice in the sextet number, the jail number, the romantic ballad "Without Love" and the finale where she is transformed ala Sandy in "Grease" into a hot looking babe, exclaiming "I'm a pretty girl, mama" another line from "Gypsy" said by Louise. Her true love in the show is Seaweed played by Antonio Tillman. He possesses a phenomenal voice which he displays in "Run and Tell That", "Without Love" and the finale. Antonio is an awesome dancer, too. Lisa Finegold plays Little Inez. She does a great job as Seaweed's dancing sibling.Lisa is sassy and fits this role perfectly. JP Sarro and Stacy Geer do a tremendous job in their multiple roles. JP plays the mean school Principal, the gay dress maker, Mr. Pinky and Harriman F.S. Clutch Hairspray while Stacy plays Penny's bigoted mom, Prudy, the butch gym teacher and the hard as nails prison matron. Stacy leads the chorus in "The Big Dollhouse". The singing and dancing chorus excel in this show. Press night isn't complete without the scrumptious buffet at Bistro by the Sea prepared by Duane Crowe and his lovely wife, Karleen. The luscious treats this time included fruit, vegetables, home made bread, magic bars, other assorted desserts and salad. Earlier that night I ate dinner at the Bistro. It consisted of Broiled Scallops, with melt in your mouth mashed potatoes and roasted zucchini.So for a fabulous version of "Hairspray", be sure to catch this blockbuster musical hit at Theatre by the Sea. Tell them Tony sent you. Run do not walk to the box office to obtain your tickets before the show is sold out.

"Hairspray" (20 July - 13 August)
@ 364 Cards Pond Road, MATUNUCK RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide