Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Hairspray"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2006 by Tony Annicone

"Hairspray"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The North Shore Music Theatre's current production is the Regional Theater Premiere of "Hairspray" which is still running on Broadway. The Broadway show won 8 Tony Awards NSMT is the first regional theater in the country to create an original production of this 1960's musical comedy. "Hairspray" is based on the 1988 John Waters film which starred Ricki Lake and Divine. 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 television dance show, 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 who 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. His 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 by her mother, Edna, a hardworking woman of vast proportions and enormous heart and her father, Wilbur who runs a jokeshop called Har-Dee-Har Hut. 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". Director/choreographer Barry Ivan also knows how to put together a smash hit musical with high powered energy from start to finish with many show stopping moments along the way. The dance numbers are dazzling while the singing is sensational with expert musical direction from Dale Rieling. The multitude of colorful costumes are by William Ivey Long with the hair and wig designs which are extremely important in this show, are by Gerard Kelly. This sensational show is richly rewarded with a standing ovation by the entire audience at the curtain call, proving one doesn't need to go to Broadway but they can see a Broadway caliber show at NSMT. Bravo.

Barry blocks this huge show beautifully using the entire theatre and his dance numbers from the 1960's are fantastic and are executed marvelously by his multitalented 29 member cast while Dale's orchestra compliments the vocalists splendidly. One of his best is the tap dancing opening of Act 2, "The Big Dollhouse" where all the women are in jail. The fabulous sets by Howard C. Jones, include a jail cell, a sliding dance floor, a giant hairspray can. Leading this cast is Bridie Carroll, a 2005 Boston Conservatory graduate who is perfect as Tracy Turnblad. She makes this overweight girl into a person the audience can easily identify with and gains their love and admiration with her spunky and heartfelt portrayal. Her powerful voice excels in her many numbers including "Good Morning Baltimore" which opens the show, "I Can Hear the Bells", a fall in love at first sight love song and "You Can't Stop the Beat" where she triumphs against all odds. Bridie not only sings wonderfully but dances up a storm. This young girl acts her heart out in this role, showing her prowess in her first big time role. MADtv's Paul Vogt stars as Edna Turnblad, Tracy's loving mother, Edna. He is a hoot in this role, stealing many scenes with his one liners and double takes. Paul gets to sing and dance in "Welcome to the ' 60's" ( with three gals, Allison Blackwell, Colleen Longshaw & Kara-Tameika Watkins, singing and strutting like the Supremes) "Big Blonde & Beautiful" and "The Big Dollhouse" where all the women in town are in jail ( at the end of this number Edna sings "For Me" like Mama Rose in "Gypsy".) One of the funniest numbers is a vaudeville soft shoe called "Timeless to Me" which Paul does with Dick Decareau who plays Wilbur. Their adlibs and patter during the number as well as their singing and dancing stop the show with its brilliance. Dick does a great job as the loving and supportive husband and father who wants both of his girls dreams to come true.

The most phenomenal voice in this show belongs to Inga Ballard who plays Motormouth Maybelle. Her powerful voice soars off the charts with her bluesy, Gospel numbers. Her first one "Big, Blonde and Beautiful" where she encourages Edna to appear on TV closes Act 1 and her second number "I Know Where I've Been" which describes her experiences as a black woman, encouraging Tracy and everyone else not to give up, stops the show with a long and very well deserved ovation. Brava. ( I also saw Inga in "Fame" at NSMT and she shone brightly in that show, too.) Tall, dark and handsome matinee idol, Todd DuBail 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. Todd does a wonderful job as the dance host who is unafraid to stand up to his pain in the ass producer. (I also reviewed Todd in 2004 in "Grease" at Reagle Players where he did a dynamite job as Danny Zuko.) Young, good looking blond haired David Larsen plays Link Larkin, Tracy's dancing dreamboat. Link is an Elvis wannabe who is using the dance show to be discovered. David and Bridie sing a lovely duet called "It Takes Two" and "Without Love". The villains of this show are the conceited, egotistical Von Tussles. Deb Lyons is excellent as Velma, 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 fantastic voice shines in the sextet number "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now" and in the tango like song "Miss Baltimore Crabs" where she proclaims all woman have to be beautiful to get anywhere in the world. Her snotty, spoiled daughter, Amber is well played by Dana Zihlman Harshaw. Unlike Amber, Dana is very talented and she gets to throw temper tantrums, dance and sing as this spoiled brat and leads the chorus in "Cooties". Playing Tracy's shy best friend, Penny is Sarah Eliszabeth Nischwitz. She sings and dances up a storm in the sextet number, the jail number "The Big Dollhouse", "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 Dashaun Young. This young man possesses a powerful voice which he uses in "Run and Tell That", "Without Love" and the finale as well as dynamite dancing ability, too.

David Coffee and Valerie Fagan do a tremendous job in their multiple roles in the show. David plays the mean school Principal, the gay dress maker, Mr. Pinky and Harriman F. Spritzer, the owner of Ultra Clutch Hairspray while Valerie plays Penny's bigoted mom, Prudy, the butch gym teacher and the hard as nails prison matron. Valerie leads the chorus in "The Big Dollhouse". 13 year old Simone Senibaldi does a great job as Seaweed's dancing sibling, Little Inez. She is sassy and fits the role beautifully. The chorus members also excel with their vocal and dancing abilities, too. (Michael D. Jablonski is part of this group and he dances and sings as well as he did when I first reviewed him when he played A-rab in "West Side Story" at Theatre-by-the-Sea in the summer of 2000.) So for a trip back to the fun and carefree days of the 1960's, be sure to catch this regional premiere of the blockbuster musical hit, "Hairspray". Tell them Tony sent you.

"Hairspray" (24 October - 19 November)
NORTH SHORE MUSIC THEATRE
62 Dunham Road, BEVERLY MA
1 (978)232-7200

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