A summer of fun kicks off with a musical bouncier and brighter than a beach ball—Hairspray, presented in all its teased, sprayed and teen-spirited glory at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia under the ebullient direction (and 1960s go-go choreography) of Mark Minnick.
The talented cast bubbles over with energy in Toby’s production of the 2006 musical about Baltimore in the segregated early 1960s that mixes racial integration with retro pop syncopation.
This generous of heart, big-boned musical centers on Tracy Turnblad (Christie Graham, a mini pack of dynamite), a “chubby” teenager who dances like an Ikette and who just wants to get her chance to display her mad skillz on “The Corny Collins Show,” a popular local teen dance TV show. But Tracy doesn’t just want to bust a move—she wants to break down racial barriers on the show until “every day is Negro Day.”
Bittersweet nostalgia, Tracy’s idealism, given Baltimore’s current unrest that has drawn sharp attention to the city’s entrenched racial divide.
As Tracy’s mother Edna (Lawrence B. Munsey, delightfully bigger than life and who nails the distinctive “Bawlmer” accent), an iron-wielding housebound hausfrau with a plus-sized physique, says “People like us aren’t on TV, Tracy, unless we’re being laughed at.”
But Tracy won’t stop until she erases race lines, fights weight discrimination, liberates her mother and wins the heart of smooth-crooning hunk Link Larkin (a suave and soulful Justin Calhoun).
Director Minnick plays up the star power of Munsey’s Edna, who is played with such blue collar brass and a smidge of vulnerability that you cheer for her liberation from Kennedy-era fatphobia to live it up large. Edna’s journey from shut-in to rabble-rouser is expressed in the Motown-tinged “Welcome to the 60s” (where a trio of Supremes-like singers in snug, red-spangled dresses—Renata Hammond, Ashley Johnson and Samantha McEwen–sing and shimmy up a storm), “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” a strut-my-stuff duet with the inimitable Kelli Blackwell as dee-jay Motormouth Maybelle and another duet, this time a sweetly sexy, sentimental soft shoe with husband Wilbur (David James, whose acrobatic grace recalls song and dance man Donald O’Connor), “Timeless to Me.”
Munsey is also clad in a peacock-proud array of costumes that he co-designed, from a chinoiserie-inspired chenille bathrobe to the fabulous finale ensemble—a scarlet, skin-tight mermaid dress that pays homage to John Waters drag queen muse, Divine, and her gown in the cult movie “Pink Flamingos.”
But Tracy is not left in her mother’s hairspray-scented dust. Graham’s Tracy is one of those take-charge musical theater ingénues who just gets out there and gives it her all—whether singing like Lesley Gore or dancing like one of the Hullaballoo regulars. She’s as fizzy as an ice cream soda as the literally struck-dumb by love schoolgirl in “I Can Hear the Bells” or simmers with slow-dance hormones in “It Takes Two” and “Without Love.”
closes September 4, 2016
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Sophie Schulman is adorably anxiety-riddled as Tracy’s best friend, Penny Pingleton, who finds her nerve—and her voice– when she falls for Seaweed J. Stubbs (Andre Hinds, an astonishingly limber and talented dancer), a young black man who slips and slides like James Brown on a soulful roll. His mother, Motormouth Maybelle, is a sassy force to be reckoned with in her duet with Edna, but she comes into her own with the skilled build-up and unforced uplift of her anthem to civil rights “I Know Where I’ve Been.”
What works so cannily about Hairspray is that it manages to be true to the can-do optimism and seismic changes in 1962 America while capturing John Waters’ subversive sense of humor, which are reflected in Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman’s smirky, pun-drunk lyrics.
You don’t think the show could get any giddier, but then there’s the finale number, “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” which builds to crescendo after crescendo of pure pop nirvana and dance-craze choreography. Hairspray shows that you can’t stop social change or the beat of a new generation coming into power.
Hairspray . Based upon the New Line Cinema film written and directed by John Waters . Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan . Music by Mark Shaiman . Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman . Director and choreographer: Mark Minnick. Musical direction/orchestrations: Ross Scott Rawlings. Set Design: David A. Hopkins. Light design: Lynn Joslin. Sound design: Mark Smedley. Costumes: Lawrence B. Munsey and Mary Quinn. Featuring Christie Graham, Lawrence B. Munsey, David James, Andre Hinds, Justin Calhoun, Sophie Schulman, Kelli Blackwell, Noelle Robinson, Jeffrey Shankle, Gabriella DeLuca, Heather Marie Beck, Sean McComas, Rachel Kemp, AJ Whittenberger, Erica Clare, Joey Ellinghaus, Amanda Kaplan Coby Kay Callahan, Darren McDonnell, Solomon Parker III, Gerald Jordon, Renata Hammond, Ashley Johnson, Samantha McEwen. Produced by Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.