Saturday, February 07, 2009



One of the fears of seeing a touring show of a production which is being showcased again after a couple of previous visits, is that it will have a “not ready for prime time cast,” few of the original theatrical effects, inferior settings and poor musical quality.

After the first ten minutes of ‘HAIRSPRAY,’ which is at the Palace Theatre for a short run, my grandson, Alex (13), who I brought along to be the eyes and ears of the many tweens and teens in the audience, whispered, “This isn’t very good.” Yep, he was right on. The opening scenes dragged, the music was way too loud, drowning out the singers, and it looked like a high school production. Then, like someone had thrown the, “okay, it’s time to have a good time and show your talent switch,” the show caught fire. From there on, it was a good time at the theatre.

‘HAIRSPRAY’ is the musical version of the John Walters’ movie of the same name. It centers on Tracy, a plus-sized teenager who longs for three things: being a regular dancer on the “Corny Collins Show (think Dick Clark’s “Bandstand”); having Link Larkin, the show’s super stud, fall in love with her; and having every day “negro day” on the show so that the blacks could display their dancing talents along with the white cast. To understand the latter aspect, you have to understand that Baltimore, where the show is set, is really a southern city, which clung to it’s segregated past with a fury and was torn with strife in the 60s.

The multi-award winning show was a smash on Broadway and in its first touring productions. The score, which includes “The Nicest Kids in Town,” “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,” “I Can Hear the Bells,” and “(You’re) Timeless to Me,” is upbeat and is sure to inspire attendees to leave the theatre humming.

Alex, after standing and dancing and yelling with the rest of the audience during the curtain call, summarized the experience as a “9 on a scale of ten.” He loved Motormouth Maybelle (Lisa Linette), a black record store operator, and her son, Seaweed (John Edwards). Linette brought down the house while wailing, “I Know Where I’ve Been.” Edwards, besides having a great voice, is a dancing fool!

Alex also thought Amber Rees, portraying Seaweed’s white girlfriend, was a “hoot.” He complained that the orchestra was too loud at the start, drowning out the singers, but got into the groove later and settled down to play their proper back-up role. Though he liked the sets, we both agree that they were a little “tacky” for a Broadway touring show. He contended that Brooklynn Pulver, who played Tracy, sang and acted well, but wasn’t much of a dancer, and he was disappointed with Matthew Ragas, who played Link, because in many scenes he was unbelievable. He liked Jerry O’Boyle, who played Edna, Tracy’s mother. In spite of the flaws, he loved the over-all effect. Grandpa liked it, but I’ve seen the show five times and have a basis for comparison.

The show, which played to a large opening night crowd, only runs through Sunday, the 8th.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘HAIRSPRAY,’ the 1960s fun show with a message, is just out and out fun. It’s latest touring incarnation was a good, but not a great production.