Friday, June 17, 2005

Hairspray - Playhouse Square Center


During the curtain call on opening of night of ‘HAIRSPRAY,’ at the State Theatre in Playhouse Square, the audience was on its feet, clapping in harmony and moving in time to the music. They obviously had enjoyed this touring production of the multi Tony Award winning musical.

Now, don’t get the idea that ‘HAIRSPRAY’ is a great musical. It’s not. It will never be ranked with the likes of ‘A CHORUS LINE,’ ‘WEST SIDE STORY,’ or ‘CAROUSEL.’ What it is, as reviewers of the Broadway production stated, is “an audience pleaser,” “bubble gum-flavored confection,” “tons of fun,” and sweetly subversive.” It’s more in the realm of ‘THE PRODUCERS’ ‘FOOTLOOSE’ and ‘SEUSSICAL, THE MUSICAL.’

Based on the 1988 movie penned by John Waters, the musical, like the film, takes place in segregated Baltimore in the '50s. Change is in the air and Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, has only one passion--to dance on "The Corny Collins Show." Through a series of quirks she is transformed from outsider to irrepressible teen celebrity who might even get her second and third wishes, winning the love of heart throb, Link Larkin, and integrating the television show while not denting her 'do’?

Walters grew up in Baltimore in the 50s. With his weird counter-culture friends he started making films that outraged the traditionalists and entranced underground audiences. By the early 70s he was regularly making films like ‘PINK FLAMINGOS,’ a deliberate exercise in ultra-bad taste. It was his crossover film ‘HAIRSPRAY,’ which reflected Walters playfulness and his life-long obsessions, including integration and the need for social change, that brought Walters to national prominence.

Songs from the show include, “Good Morning Baltimore,” the delightful opening number, the pretty ballad “Timeless to Me,” and the compelling “I Know Where I’ve Been.”

The musical, which is appearing in Cleveland as part of the Broadway Series, does not have the sparkle, the life or the spirit of the original New York production. Missing most are Marissa Jaret Winokur as Tracy Turnblad and Harvey Fierstein as her irresistible stage mother (played in drag).

Keala Settle’s Tracy is quite endearing. She sings and dances well, but doesn’t light up the stage like Winokur. J. P. Dougherty feigns being outrageous, a quality that comes so easy for Fierstein, but Dougherty can’t quite pull it off. He is funny, but the role requires being outrageous.

Chandra Lee Schwartz is wonderful as the mousey Penny, Tracy’s best friend. Charlotte Crossley wails as Motormouth Maybelle. Alan Mingo, Jr., sings and dances up a storm as Seaweed, Penny’s boyfriend. Serge Kushnier is quite adequate as Link, but lacks that special 50s stud luster needed for the role. Stephen DeRosa is fine as Tracy’s eccentric father.

A major issue is the sound. The orchestra is so loud that it often drowns out the performers. Since much of the charm of the show is Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman’s clever lyrics, some of the sheen is taken off the production by this technical glitch.

Jerry Mitchell’s choreography is fun and perfectly fits the 50s era. The sets, the lighting, the special effects all work well.

Capsule Judgment ‘HAIRSPRAY’ is a fun show. The Broadway series production will be enjoyed by the audience, though it is not of the same quality as the original show.