REVIEW: Hairspray - Laguna Playhouse
...Final Two Weeks! Catch it Before It Goes!
Playing at the Laguna Playhouse, Laguna Beach, and directed by Paula Hammons Sloan, Hairspray is a big, bouncy bouffant of a musical - the ultimate feel-good show! Musically directed by Michael A. Ferrara, original music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman and a book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, the show is based on the 1988 John Waters film with the same name - Hairspray. The songs include 1960s-style dance music and "downtown" rhythm and blues. In 2003 it won eight Tony Awards, including best musical, book, score and direction. The production ran for more than six years, closing in 2009 after 2,642 performances.
In 1962 Baltimore, Maryland, Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, dreams of dancing on The Corny Collins Show, a local TV dance program based on the real-life Buddy Deane Show. Too young to remember that? How about Dick Clark’s American Bandstand?
After an announcement that auditions for a place on the show will be held, Tracy begs her mother for permission to audition. Edna, a plus size herself, fearing that Tracy will be laughed at due to her weight, refuses to let her go. Penny and Amber have similar arguments with their mothers in song during this same scene ("Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now").
After gaining permission and support from her father, Wilbur, Tracy auditions for the show and bumps into teenage heartthrob, Link Larkin (Tanner Callicutt), which leads into a riotous dream sequence ("I Can Hear the Bells").
When Tracy earns a coveted role on the show, she becomes the most popular addition to the cast ("The Nicest Kids in Town"), but reaps the wrath of the producer’s daughter, Amber Von Tussle (Haley Chaney)—a girl whose mother, Velma Von Tussle (Allison Foote), just happens to produce the Corny Collin’s Show on local television station WYZT.
Amber isn’t at all nice either. She’s catty, cruel, egotistical, and conniving, just like her mother, Velma, whose only claim to fame is her former beauty title as “Miss Baltimore Crabs.” Both are marvelously mean and downright despicable in their roles. Velma’s portrayal is somehow reminiscent of Cruella de Vil, especially during one number, “Velma’s Revenge.” Amber is the current resident princess of The Corny Collins Show, despite her lack of talent, and she is willing to do anything to win the Miss Teenage Hairspray pageant.
When Corny Collins (played by Jared Kaitz - the glib, polished host of The Corny Collins Show with one eye on social progress and another on his hair) sees that Tracy has not only some gifted dance moves but also similar viewpoints, he gives her a featured role in the show. During the broadcast, Tracy’s honey-voiced dreamboat Link, complete with a dimples-in-his-cheeks appeal, follows Corny’s suggestion and sings "It Takes Two" to Tracy, much to Amber’s dismay.
Later, in detention after school, Tracy learns some cool dance moves along with finding out that the black kids she hangs out with are really her best friends, despite the obvious racial differences. Soon after, Tracy is campaigning for social change and the show’s integration, where she takes on some of life’s greatest obstacles during this dawn of the country’s civil right’s movement.
All the show's playful energy peaks in the second act as Tracy and her family unite with Motormouth Maybelle (Dwan Hayes), the sassy, strong-willed and friendly owner of a downtown record shop and the host of "Negro Day" on The Corny Collins Show. Self-described as "big, blonde and beautiful,” she leads the protesters in the plaintive and rousing near-gospel number, "I Know Where I've Been" producing recording quality vocals and higher notes than anyone could imagine.
The heart of this show is in the music and that ‘beat’; it’s infectious from the start and drives the story right through to the bows. Nicole Powell carries the central character of Tracy Turnblad with an energy that appears to infect every other performer she interacts with. She exhibits the traits of a consummate performer with a voice that handles the big-sing of the part of Tracy with ease, combining heart and purpose with brilliant comedic timing. She also has the right stuff to stand out with Tracy’s signature moves, easily convincing us of her character’s most defining trait as a joyful, trend-setting dancer. All in all, Nicole’s performance is a joy to watch.
And Kristen Daniels as Penny Pingleton, Tracy's slightly dorky, devoted and perky best friend and confidant, is a perpetual scene stealer, with her gum-cracking, slump-shouldered, squeaky obeisance to her bigoted mother, Prudy, and her wise-cracking comedic timing. While Tracy is a big, frontline activist, gathering support and crossing race lines to integrate the show, BFF Penny creates her own chaos by falling for African-American super dancer, Seaweed J. Stubbs, (Jovan E. Watlington), son of Baltimore’s black music superstar, Motormouth Maybelle. Penny’s awkward antics invoke much laughter from the audience through most of the show, but her stunning metamorphosis into a slick-chick glittery bombshell in the second act is a true eye-opener!
Seaweed: “Livin' in the ghetto, black is everywhere you go. Who'd have thought I'd love a girl whose skin was white as winter snow?”
Penny Pingleton: “In my ivory tower, life was just a Hostess snack…But now I've tasted chocolate, and I'm never goin' back!”
Some of the best featured performances in the show is by Tracy's mother, Edna ( James W. Gruessing, Jr.), and Tracy’s father (Rick Grossman). In their luminous turn, Gruessing Jr. is moving and funny with his/her one-liners, providing all the star power needed to push the show over the top. And Grossman makes a perfect partner for Edna as her adoring, wisecracking husband Wilbur. Their sweetly comedic duet, "You're Timeless to Me," is one of the highlights that is not only an unexpected show stopper, but one of the warmest and most loving moments in the musical. Both are the ultimate professionals: Gruessing Jr. is an accomplished regional actor as well as a Disney star; Grossman has many national tours to his credit and also excels as a director.
Scenic design is by Musical Theatre OC, costumes by Keith Lambert, lighting design by Alex Crocker-Lakness, and sound design is by Mike Ritchey. The cast also includes Daniel Berlin perfectly playing a triple role of Mr. Pinky, the high school principal and Mr. Spritzer, the President of Ultra Clutch Hairspray. Michelle Bendetti is also outstanding in her roles as Prudy Pingleton, the prison matron, and a mean-spirited gym teacher, who encourages her students to abuse their special education and African American counterparts in a vicious game of scatter dodge ball. And, 11-year old Faith Nibbe as Seaweed’s talented younger sister, Little Inez, also shines throughout.
Kamilah Marshall, Shayna Steele, and Judine Richard portrayed the Dynamites with unbelievable vocals. Ensemble included a perfectly synched group that looked and sounded very authentic from the slick-backed rose water hair to the background croons, to the 60’s dance styles. Many play dual or triple roles as members of the Corny Collins Show, the community (a couple in drag actually), or street vendor. Kudos to Nicole Morris, Sydni Session, Essence Tyler, Dereis Lambert, Katie Van Horn, David Sasik, Andrew Ryan, Jayden Goodman, Zack Blanchette, Mariena Becker, Michael Riskin, Siena Yusi, and Lauren Oseas for lovely performances!
Hairspray was originally set to run from July 5th through the 30th, but has been extended until August 5th. Don’t miss this blast from the past masterpiece from the Laguna Playhouse! It’s been a daily sell-out, so get your tickets before all the seats are gone! http://lagunaplayhouse.com/box-office/buy-tickets
Chris Daniels Arts Reviewer The Show Report