Hairspray

Hairspray

Hairspray Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas
Directed and choreographed by Rob Winn Anderson
Starring Hanna Berry Matthews, Matthew Arter, Daniel Longacre, and Leigh Green
The Garden Theatre, Winter Garden FL.

John Waters sure cleaned up his act, he started with sex and dog poop on film and wound up on stage with this high energy, high power feel good story about overcoming body issues AND racism. In 1962 Baltimore, the hair styles were huge and the black folks conveniently out of sight on local TV. Teens flocked to the Corny Collins Show, that’s where the cool kids danced and primped and exuded to sort of superiority that only live television or a real selective sorority can imbue. Tubby Tracy Turnblad (Matthews) wants to audition but her white trash mama Edna (Arter) forbids her; mom knows her place and it’s washing skid marks out of other people’s undies. When Tracy lands the gig mom shifts positions but when Pinky’s Hefty Hideaway offers to sponsor her, Mom jumps all in. Tracy meets Seaweed Stubbs (Victor Souffrant) and discovers soul music, she effuses “I wish every day could be Negro day!” but that’s a bit much and she ends up in jail. Heartthrob Link Larkin (Longacre) busts her out with a hairspray and a lighter; she wins the dance contest, gets the heart of Link and completely erases all racial discrimination and hatred in the city. OK, that last one is a stretch; they don’t still call it Harm City for nothing.

This is the sort of big, busty musical that makes the genera a perennial favorite. The sets are huge, the cast is huge, and skill on stage and off is even bigger. Tracy is loveable yet vulnerable; she lacks Annie’s Saccharine but remains just stubborn enough to be believable. While her mom isn’t exactly Devine, she carries herself with poise and humility until it’s time to bust out of her spray can and conquer the world. Opposite this pair we have Amber Von Tussle (Green) and her producer/agent stage mom Velma (Sara-lee Dobbs); they’re blond and privileged and have connections as well as better accents and more expensive hairdos. Supporting this team is the always smiling Mr. Collins (Billy Flannigan), the supple and slithery Seaweed Stubbs, and the upbeat funny man Wilber Turnblad (Keith Smith.) Mellissa Vasquez plays Motormouth Maybelle; she nearly brought down the house with the stunning gospel number “I Know Where I’ve Been.” Finallay there’s Tracy’s sidekick, the gawky Penny Pingleton (Taylor Anderson) she never fit in to society but always got her laughs.

The set was simple yet effective, and the bright pure lighting tones recall the earliest days of color TV. Director Anderson did a stunning job of keeping all twenty people on stage doing something interesting without hurting themselves or the audience. The opening number “Good Morning Baltimore” set the tone, it included a quick and quirky rat chorus line AND a flasher. It’s hard to pick a favorite song, “Mama I’m a Big Girl Now,” “It Takes Two” and “Welcome to the 60’s” each got a tick mark in my program, but the music and production is so consistent that you never feel any song is a filler. Even a minor technical snag couldn’t slow this show down; it’s a steam roller of happy times, brilliant dance and songs to rekindle whatever youthful enthusiasm remains after your voyage through the cynical 90’s.

For more information on The Garden Theatre, please visit www.gardentheatre.org

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