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


by Tony Annicone

The summer show at Company Theatre is "Hairspray". The show 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 and meets Seaweed there. He 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 Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman cast the show beautifully, winning it a spontaneous standing ovation at curtain call.

Company Theatre always does a splendid job with epic shows and this one is another feather in their cap. They block this huge show beautifully while Sally Ashton Forrest's 1960's dance numbers are fantastic and executed marvelously by this talented cast while Michael Joseph's 12 piece orchestra compliments the vocalists splendidly and he obtains terrific harmonic balance from the cast. He utilizes the company in many of the numbers producing an awesome sound that can't be beat One of the best dance numbers is the tap dancing opening of Act 2, "The Big Dollhouse" where all the women are in jail. The other dance done at the end of the show with everyone dancing in unison is fantastic, too. The fabulous sets by James Valentin include a jail cell, a sliding second story Turnblad living room set and a giant hairspray can. Leading this cast is Colleen McDonough 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 terrific and powerful voice excels in her many numbers including "Good Morning Baltimore" which opens the show,, the sextet song "Mama I'm a Big Girl Now, with Amber and Penny singing to their mothers, "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. Colleen not only sings wonderfully but dances up a storm and acts her heart out in this role. She is one of the best Tracy's around. David Giogrando stars as Edna Turnblad, Tracy's loving mother. He is a hoot in this role, stealing many scenes with his one liners, double entendres and double takes. David gets to sing and dance in "Mama I'm a Big Girl Now", "Welcome to the 60's" with the three gals playing the Dynamites, Maya Carter, Ameris Davis and Charisse Shields and they are dynamite, who sing and strut like the Supremes,in "Big Blonde & Beautiful" and "The Big Dollhouse" where all the women in town are in jail. At the end of the number Edna sings "For Me" like Mama Rose in "Gypsy". One of the funniest numbers in the show is a vaudeville soft shoe "Timeless to Me" which David does with Steve Shannon as Wilbur. Their ad libs and patter during this number as well as their singing and dancing bring down the house with its brilliance. Steve does a terrific job as the loving and supportive husband and father who wants both of his girls dreams to come true. He is one of the best and most energetic Wilbur's I have ever seen. Wilbur puts up the bail for everyone by mortgaging his joke shop and disguises himself as Groucho Marx to fool Velma in a scene in the second act. One of his funniest lines is when he describes Edna as a prime piece of real estate.

The most fantastic voice in this show belongs to Tracy Silva as Motormouth Maybelle. Her powerful voice soars off the charts in her blues 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 experience as a black woman, encouraging Tracy and everyone else not to give up. stops the show with this song, leaving not a dry eye in the house with its powerful message of acceptance. Evette Anderson plays the role at alternating performances. Matt Torrance plays Corny Collins, a young Dick Clark type who can also sing and dance. He is tall, dark and handsome and 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. Matt does a fantastic job as Corny and he isn't afraid to stand up to his pain in the ass bigoted producer. Brown haired and handsome Nick Cox 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 Tracy called "It Takes Two" while strumming a guitar like Elvis and the romantic duet with Colleen called "Without Love" which Penny and Seaweed and the chorus also sing. Link finally sees the light and joins Tracy in her quest. It is Nick's debut at Company Theatre but he has performed in many show elsewhere and does a standout job as Link.

The villains of this show are the conceited Von Tussles. Karen Cavallo 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 marvelous in this role as the scheming mother who will stop at nothing to see her daughter seek the stardom she never had. Her lovely 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 that Shirley Temple stole her friggin part and sings about Sammy Davis being black and a Jew in her song to show her bigoted outlook on life. her snotty, spoiled daughter, Amber is well played by Maureen Torraco. 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 obtain more votes from viewers because Amber is willing to do anything to win the pageant. She knocks Tracy out with a ball at gym class, too. Unlike Amber, Maureen is very talented, sings and dances wonderfully and as Amber gets to throw many temper tantrums. Playing Tracy's shy best friend, Penny is Caitlin Ford. She does an excellent job as this dumb redhead, 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 ala Sandy in "Grease". Penny exclaims "I'm a pretty girl, mama" another line from "Gypsy". Her true love in the show is Seaweed well played by James Valentin. He has a phenomenal voice which he uses in "Run and Tell That", "Without Love" and is an incredible dancer, too. James excels in comic roles and this one is another feather in his cap. 11 year old Syra Mehdi plays Little Inez. She does a great job as Seaweed's dancing sibling. Syra is sassy and fits the role perfectly. Julie Dennis steals many a scene as Penny's bigoted mother whose funniest moment is when she grabs Seaweed's butt, saying what a sexy black man he is and she also plays the tough matron. Other comic performers playing the adults are Meg Dussault as the principal and gym teacher, Alex Narcotta as Harriman Spritzer and Eddie Fee as Mr. Pinky. The dancing and singing chorus is spectacular in this show. So for a fabulous version of this show, be sure to catch this blockbuster musical "Hairspray" at Company Theatre. Tell them Tony sent you.

"Hairspray" (29 July - 21 August)
@ 30 Accord Park Drive, NORWELL MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide