Energetic, fun, lively, funny, endearing, and good enough to be a national tour version–all describe opening night of Hairspray at the Jewish Community Center that runs there for three weekends before moving to Johnson County Theater in the Park for two more weekends.
Stop what you’re doing, get the computer or phone and get tickets. A sellout crowd stood as the curtain call began. Expect continued sellouts as word of mouth spreads and the show generates even more energy. Hairspray, worthy of sellouts continues for 8 more performances through July 28 in The White Theater and then moves outside to Theater in the Park. There, the show surely draws even larger crowds with families coming with picnic baskets and blankets.
Still, indoors and in a beautiful facility remains the best choice to see the musical comedy set in the 50’s in Baltimore, MD, and showing the undeniable spirit of an obese high schooler and her trials to win the heart of the boy she loves. Sound cheesy? Well, it is, but it s so much fun. No one can leave without feeling good. The Jewish Community Center’s Hairspray has everything,. Great songs, great staging, fantastic voices, well-developed characters, good costumes, beautiful moving sets, for a start, but the directing and choreography stand superior, making the production over the top.
Director Mark Swezey and choreographer Liz Ernst made all the right decisions. Swezey selected a strong cast with triple strengths. They sang, dance, and acted to perfection. His vision for the musical kept the show fast-paced, moving, and engaging for the patrons. The blocking and staging utilized the large stage and kept the audience continually watching all parts of the stage. And the choreography for the musical numbers was sharp, crisp, energetic, and balanced. Getting all the actors to move in dance numbers keeps the audience engaged.
Not to be forgotten, the costuming in Hairspray certainly adds to the production. The show’s costume designer, Leslie Spinder created a bright and colorful palette that enhanced each scene. The sets design easily moved sets in and out without stopping the action and gave focal points to each scene. Give lots of credit for the crews who created the success of Hairspray.
In the story, Tracy Turnblad, the overweight teen, knows she can dance better than many on the local afternoon dance show and longs to be included. Her plight puts her in direct line for criticism, bad jokes, bullying and all the tribulations of teens being different from the “in” crowd. Her parents, divided in thought but united in their love for each other and their daughter, encourage and support her taking risks to effect change.
Jessica Alcorn led the cast as the troubled teen with an undeniable spirit. She confronts the challenges of obesity, bullying, and racism in a portrayal that grows as the story evolves. Alcorn’s character remained true and focused even when technical problems popped up on opening night. She sings and dances the part with ease.
Supportive parents, Edna and Wilbur, performed by Jay Coombs and Trevor French draw the audience’s attention in each of their scenes. The pair almost steal the show with their song and dance number, “You’re Timeless to Me.” Coombs portrays Edna, a role always played in drag and absolutely wore the role with vigor and conviction. As his joke-loving husband, Trevor French, gave an honest and funny portrayal of Wilbur, the owner of the Hardy Har Hut who envisions developing a colossal-size whoopee cushion to change the family finances. French and Coombs’ scenes are wonderful. They perform with ease and confidence.
Another part of Tracy’s support comes in the form of her best friend, Penny. Heather Layher did a great job with the character, especially in her input for the number “I’m a Big Girl Now.” Her vocal and dance movement in that number demonstrate she can own a bigger role. Her scenes with Seaweed, played by Christian Robinson were spot-on. And, his dancing was spectacular. The young man has talent. Watch for both of them in subsequent shows.
Every show needs a villain to make the heroes larger than life and throw obstacles into the plot. In this case, the Van Tussel duo of Amber and Velma provide the chaos and evil to the story. In this case, Beth Benedict and Stacey Uthe provided the fireworks with a mix of demonized meanness and humor. Funny villains make shows more fun and the audience awaits their comeuppance. Both provided the right amount of dastardly deeds and humor.
Another triple-treat to watch was the triple playing Stasha Case who played three mean-spirited characters–Prudy Pingleton, the gym teacher, and the jail matron. Unfortunately, a microphone malfunction for her humorous number, “Big Doll House” allowed only the front tier to hear the funny song while the back rows had to rely only on comedic body language and facials to see the song was funny. Case was funny and direct in all three embodiments of evil and humor. (And, her singing is good, too.
As an inspirational character, Motormouth Maybelle, played with verve by Megan Hill, glued the story of racism in the days before Civil Rights as her anthem to unite and fight moved the audience, Then, her comedy number, “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful,” encouraged smiles and loud applause. A solid and inspiring performance from Hill.
No musical comedy comes full circle without a love interest for the main character. In this case, it’s Link Larken who captures the eye of both Amber Van Tussel and Tracy Turnblad. With his eye on a record contract and his own destiny, Brian Shortess, sang, acted, and danced his way into Tracy’s heart as well as the audiences. Shortess gave the character a subtle innocence and grace with confronting Tracy and her uplifting spirit. Link’s character grows from spineless to strong slowly, and Shortess moves that character up the charts as the show continues. His songs feature his strong voice and the dance numbers highlight his dance background. He looks and sounds like he is the perfect choice for Link. Shortess provides strong stage presence even when performing in ensemble numbers.
One other part that’s worthy of mention and praise, Corny Collins, the emcee and catalyst of the confrontations on his local dance show. In this situation, Brent Nanney played Collins as a slimy, disk jockey to perfection. His portrayal could not be further removed from the Dick Clark character the dance show imitates. Great job.
By all means, make plans to see Hairspray show that comes highly recommended and family friendly. Hairspray is the best production yet this summer. The show makes people laugh. Hairspray reminds audiences to see what racism and bullying were like in a bygone era, but it’s done with humor, not anger. The uplifting finale of the show demonstrates the idea of good’s triumph in the long run. Label Hairspray, “must see.”