7/13/2019           HAIRSPRAY                                                          City Springs Theatre Co

****½   ( A )



BALTIMORE GRAFFITI – WHERE WERE YOU IN ’62?

 

Whew!   After the wrong-headed “Live TV” broadcast of Hairspray a couple of years ago, I was starving for a production that captured the magic and breathlessness of my initial exposure. Thank Goodness for Brandt Blocker and City Springs Theatre Company for (re)capturing lightning in a bottle and giving us a Hairspray that is extraordinarily well-done, amazingly entertaining, and that sends you home with your heart dancing to its contagious 1962 back beat.

 

 For those who need a recap, Hairspray is a 2002 adaptation of “out-there” filmmaker John Waters’ 1988 movie of 1962 Baltimore.  “Full-figured” teenager Tracy Turnblad wants to dance on the Corny Collins TV show, and wants to bring all her “Uptown Minority” friends with her.  Backed by her parents and her best friend, she {Spoiler Alert} not only gets her dream, she also gets the guy, teen-idol-in-the-making Link Larkin.  Filled with toe-tapping and hummable faux-62 songs and fantasies, it is still grounded in the realities of mid-century segregation and racial attitudes.  I liked the original John Waters movie, I liked the 2007 movie version of this musical, and I really liked Atlanta Lyric Theatre’s 2010 high wattage production, some cast members and design folk from which recreate their work here.

To start with, I’m a big fan of the score of this show, which is very specific to several 1962 genres, including “suburban pop,” cutting-edge rhythm-and-blues, variety-show standards, and even a bit of gospel.  The climactic “You Can’t Stop the Beat” has been a favorite since the show first opened, and I can’t listen to it without wanting to move.  The styles and lyrics of the songs are quite good at evoking the era, one which I remember a lot better than I thought I would (I was 9 in 1962 – please don’t do the math). 

 

This production is blessed with a dance-floor full of talent.  At the center is Jennifer Massey (Tracy), a big-voiced dynamo who, from the opening notes, fills the stage with her sunny optimism and her “Don’t-Care-What-They-Think” confidence.  In support, Chris Salalamacchio (Corny), Chase Peacock (Link), Christian Magby (Seaweed), Alison Brannon Wilhoit (Amber), and Arjaye Johnson (Little Inez) were spot on with their characterizations, their singing, and their dancing.  I REALLY liked Leigh Ellen Jones’ Penny, who seems to have a bottomless pool of comic energy and an unending supply of (non-mugging) facial expressions.

 

As Tracy’s hapless mother, Greg London is a(literal) tower of talent, playing Edna as a truly realistic character rather than the expected “man in drag” spectacle she could have become. Opposite is the diminutive Steve Hudson, who only comes up to Mr. London’s substantial bosoms; together, they are a walking sight gag, and their “Timeless to Me” duet is the comic highlight of the show.  Marcie Millard and Tony Hayes play about a half dozen characters, all of whom have different functions, but, purposefully, the same personality.  The always-welcome Deborah Bowman brings a bouffant of charm to the hissable villain (Velma), and Kayce Grogan Wallace brings down the house with her Motormouth Maybelle and her shake-the-rafters R&B belt.

 

Music Director Chris Brent Davis does a superb job of balancing his pit orchestra with his large and exuberant cast, and of keeping the harmonies dazzling and rapturously elegant.  In addition, Lighting Designer Mike Wood has produced a dazzling array of color and angle, which, though not exactly evoking the lighting styles of the period, nevertheless keeps our eyes entertained and the actors in a never-ending palette of multi-chromatic splendor.  The set is original Broadway set by designer David Rockwell, with William Ivey Long’s original Tony-Award-winning costumes (as coordinated by Amanda Edgerton West) fitting this cast as if they were born in them.

 

All in all, this is an outstanding production, an almost priceless example of what Atlanta Theatre can produce, and a seemingly endless source of performance and design excellence.  It is a show that, for me, never outstays its welcome.

 

So, if you remember being the “out of the mainstream” misfit of your high school, If you had fantasies of winning a mate far “out of your league,” if you had daydreams of “sticking it to” the power-breakers unfairly keeping you down, or, if you just like to revel in and move to the music of 1962, this is a perfect show for you.

 

Apparently, you really CAN’T stop this particular beat!

 

     --  Brad Rudy   (BKRudy@aol.com   @bk_rudy   #CitySpringsTheatre  #Hairspray)
 

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