Monday, May 14, 2012

Review: Hairspray

Posted By on Mon, May 14, 2012 at 12:26 PM

Anyone who believes a musical can't be both splashy and smart has missed one of the best shows to come out of Broadway in the last 10 years.

I'm talking about Hairspray, the 2002 musical based on the 1988 movie by John Waters.

Broadway, of course, has been stealing ideas from Hollywood for most of those 10 years. And Waters, a director notoriously remembered for "trash films" like Pink Flamingos, which featured a drag queen dining on dog crap, might seem like a spectacularly inappropriate source for a mainstream musical.

But forget all that. Hairspray just works. And the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's production, which opened last Friday, is such a big-hearted bundle of joy, you'll want to stand up and cheer.

Edna (Drew Frady) finds herself dragged into the 60s by her dynamo of a daughter Tracy (Andrea Rutherford)

The story is set in 1962 Baltimore, a city where flashers greet students on the way to school and African-American teens are allowed to dance only one day a month on Baltimore's version of American Bandstand, The Corny Collins Show.

But Tracy Turnblad, played by an adorable firecracker named Andrea Rutherford, doesn't care about any of that. She just wants to land a regular gig dancing on the show, mostly so she can meet the pompadoured dreamboat Link Larkin, played with the requisite swagger by the always excellent Marco Robinson.

There's just one problem. Tracy is on the hefty side, and as her even-more-generously proportioned mother Edna says, "People like us don't appear on television."

It's easy to let the campier elements of the story run away with the show, but director Scott RC Levy plays it straight, giving plenty of room for the characters to live and breathe as real people.

Key to this is the casting of Edna, a role which has been played by a man ever since the great Divine created the role for the original, non-musical movie. Here the bigger-than-life laundress is played by Drew Frady (Toad in A Year With Frog and Toad), a natural comic who knows he doesn't have to milk a joke to get every laugh it deserves.

Michael Augenstein makes a perfect partner for Edna as her adoring, wisecracking husband Wilbur, and their sweetly comedic duet "You're Timeless to Me" is one of the highlights in a show packed to the rafters with them.

Tracy learns to bust a move from the remarkably rubber-limbed Seaweed (Tyrell D. Rae)

But it's not all fun and games. Eventually Tracy realizes the injustice of segregating dancers by the color of their skin and takes it upon herself to integrate The Corny Collins Show, risking everything she has worked so hard to win in the process.

The choreography by Victor Ayers is some of the most dynamic I've ever seen on the FAC stage, and even if there were a few problems with microphones cutting out or coming detached from costumes on opening night, the cast was so good I didn't care.

Carmen Vreeman was utterly charming as Tracy's best friend Penny Pingleton, a geeky girl who learns to throw off the strictures of her over-protective mother after falling in love with a black teen nicknamed Seaweed (a remarkably rubber-limbed Tyrell D. Rae).

Lacey Connell was pitch-perfect as Tracy's snotty arch-nemesis Amber Von Tussle, and Lynn Hastings was in powerful voice as Motormouth Maybelle, her soulful rendering of "I Know Where I've Been" nearly stopping the show.

Also worthy of note are the lush lighting by Jonathan Spencer and the kaleidoscope of colors provided by Lex Liang's costumes.

No, Broadway isn't making them like they used to. But with a feel-good musical like this, who would want them to?

Editor's note: Grab Wednesday's Indy for a behind-the-scenes feature on the show.

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