Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman
Directed and choreographed by Tammy Mader
At Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace
A Doo-Whopper of a Good Time!
It’s rare that I feel like putting an exclamation point anywhere, but Tony-award winning Hairspray actually is such a loveable exclamation that I was quite simply compelled. It’s a wonder of the modern musical world—something that so easily could have been just another product like so many other musicals based on movies. The duo of Shaiman and Wittman distilled John Waters’ original subversive (but most popularly accessible) movie of the same name into a piece of self-aware pop culture that’s so much frothy fun it bursts at its seams just like its main characters. How does it do this without being saccharine? By maintaining just the right amount of Waters’ skewed and skewering (but also affectionate) view of Americana. The result is a side-splitting, candy-colored universe of stylized personas and Sixties sounds with a gleaming grin and a tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Tracy Turnblad (the positively effervescent Lillian Castillo) is a naively spunky teenager at the outset of the Sixties in her beloved hometown of Baltimore. Both her and her best friend Penny (Rebecca Pink), have mothers that have resisted the new decade’s progress, leaving them to bond over their only access to the hip new sounds of the era: The Corny Collin’s Show (the local predecessor to American Bandstand). When Corny (Rod Thomas) announces an opening, Tracy sees a chance to get the world’s attention and throw off her mother’s agoraphobic shackles—and get closer to her pin-up dream boy Link (Erik Altemus).
Standing in the way is the snide bigot Velma (Keely Vasquez), the producer of the show who only reluctantly allows a monthly “Negro Day.” She’s got an agenda beyond keeping the tide of integration from infesting her show: mainly, getting her equally villainous daughter Amber (Holly Laurent) national recognition as Ms. Teen Hairspray. When Tracy makes a splash with some hot new Detroit moves courtesy of her comrade-in-detention Seaweed (Jon-Michael Reese), she gets her shot at the big time. This despite being branded a “chubby communist” for her desire to end the show’s history of segregation and “make every day ‘Negro Day!’” It won’t be an easy ride, but Tracy can’t be deterred, even if it threatens her burgeoning relationship with Link or her very freedom. She’s a surprising force of nature who breaks down barriers with an indomitable spirit and a lot of help from her friends and family who find inspiration in her outsized willpower.
Camp rides as high as the hairdos and the energy never stalls in this affectionate ode to an outsider who won’t go inside unless it’s on her own terms. Gleefully sampling nearly every style from the decade of big hair and big sound, Hairspray is an uplifting piece of fantasy fluff. The show is replete with award-worthy choreography courtesy of Tammy Mader (also the director), bringing the numbers and the stage to life with one of the biggest casts around. A classic Waters touch stipulates that Tracy’s mother Edna is always played by a man in drag. Michael Aaron Lindner fills the role out with gusto and a little help from a fat suit. Her journey from a frightened hausfrau trembling from fear to following Tracy’s example to embrace her size is a delightful subplot. Special attention must be given to Felicia Fields as Motormouth Mabelle, both host of Negro Day and Seaweed’s mother. She embraces the roll with a lot of soul (her character rhymes in couplets too) and suffuses this into her blues gospel-esque number “I Know Where I’ve Been,” the 11th hour spiritual core of the production.
I had never seen the show live but really enjoyed the 2007 star-studded movie (the original Broadway show debuted in 2002) and had heard that seeing it live was much better. Turns out, everyone was right. Despite the movie’s accomplishments, it doesn’t compare to seeing it spring to vivacious life in front of you—no quick cuts or rest for these 33 performers. Not to mention it keeps more of the satirical subversiveness and a touch of raunch from the original source. From the intricately nested staging to the impossible wigs and colorful costumes, Hairspray is the kind of uptempo fun that leaves you tapping your toes and grinning like a goofball. It practically leaps off the stage to pull you into its bigger-than-life world with a heartfelt message of letting go of preconceptions and embracing the outsider within.
Review by Clint May
Date Reviewed: April 20, 2012
For more info checkout the Hairspray page on www.drurylaneoakbrook.com
At Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL; call 630.530.0111 or visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com; tickets $35-45 (group and student rates available); performances Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays 8:30pm, Saturdays 5pm and 8:30pm, Sundays 2pm and 6pm; running time 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission; through June 17.