Rockin' out with a social consciousness — who says we can't have it all? A girl just wants to have fun, while doing her part for integration in 1962 Baltimore. The high-octane musical Hairspray shakes the rafters at Theatre by the Sea (through August 13) in an all-stops-out production that will give you a new appreciation for what this feel-good classic can be.
DRESSED TO IMPRESS Gleadow and McCracken.
Based on John Waters's 1988 movie, the 2002 musical grabbed eight Tony Awards, thanks to music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan. It's energetically directed and choreographed here by Russell Garrett, who did such a smashing job at Matunuck last year with The Full Monty.
The barn theater is not just doing the musical justice, it's polishing everything wonderful about the show to a bright new sheen. This rendition has the talent and production values to reach the level of a smash new off-Broadway revival.
Tracy Turnblad (Erin McCracken) is circumferentially challenged, though her altitude is amplified by the high 'do that blocks blackboard views in class. Though her weight makes her a target for derision by meanies like Amber Von Tussle (Rosalie Burke) and her even meaner mother, Velma Von Tussle (Rebecca Gibel), Tracy shrugs off the catcalls. The girl's spunky personality is backed up by her supportive mother, Edna (Tom Gleadow). Edna has traditionally been played by a man since Divine took the role in the film. Equity actor Gleadow, a mainstay at the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket, is a perfect Edna, stoutly packed with good humor.
The story has to do with Tracy's heart's desire — to appear on the after school dance program The Corny Collins Show. Her mother doesn't want her to audition, thinking that she'll be made fun of because of her weight. Tracy even has to sneak off to the house of her skinny best friend Penny Pingleton (Alexa Shanahan) to watch the show, where Penny's mother Prudy (Stacey Geer) is appalled by its "race music."
Otherwise known as rhythm & blues, the sound's local mecca is the record store of Motormouth Maybelle (Yvette Monique Clark). It's there that Penny exchanges smitten gazes with Maybelle's son Seaweed J. Stubbs (Antonio Tillman), and their little two-person civil rights campaign of the heart begins.
Of course, Tracy eventually gets on the show, no thanks to Amber's mother, who is its producer. Tracy is infatuated with the show's heartthrob Link Larkin (Zach Trimmer), Amber's boyfriend, and eventually he returns Tracy's interest. As though that doesn't complicate Tracy's showbiz prospects enough, she pushes to have Negro Day, when African-Americans can dance on the program, be a daily event on an integrated Corny Collins Show.
The songs here are wonderful. "Good Morning Baltimore" starts things off on the right, raucous note. We get some funny stuff too, such as Velma's proud anthem, "Miss Baltimore Crabs," celebrating her claim to fame in her youth. And Clark's sassy spiritedness as Motormouth makes "I Know Where I've Been" and "Big, Blonde & Beautiful" soar.
Kudos, by the way, to Marcia Zammarelli for plenty of eye candy '60s costume design and to Bert Scott for clever scenic design.