Integration in Ogunquit

With a flashback to Laverne + Shirley
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  September 5, 2007

Hairspray | Based on the film by John Waters | Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan; Music by Marc Shaiman; Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman | Directed and Choreographed by Donna Drake; Musical Direction by Brian Cimmet | Produced at the Ogunquit Playhouse through September 15 | 207.646.5511
Big, buoyant teenager Tracy Turnblad (Alison Faircloth) is dedicated to some big, buoyant propositions: First, she will make it into the dance “Council” on Corny Collins, Baltimore television’s local American Bandstand knock-off. Next, she will win over the show’s star heartthrob, Link (Colin Campbell McAdoo). And finally, by the time she’s done with Corny Collins, every day — not just one measly show a month — will be Negro Day. In short, in the Ogunquit Playhouse’s musical comedy Hairspray, based on the 1988 John Waters film (and just now, in a full-circle media involution, made back into a movie), Tracy proclaims her dream to gyrate, to date, and to integrate.

Tall orders all, particularly considering the cultural mood du jour of a pastel 1962 Baltimore (rendered in set designer Charles Kading’s pink, blue and lavender brick cityscape, adorned with pop-bright bubbles and platters), and extra-particularly when you’ve got an arch-nemesis like TV producer Velma Von Tussel (Susan Cella), who beyond her bigotry is the mother of a shallow skinny bitch, Amber, (Lindsay Devino, in a zinging blonde caricature), alpha-dancer on the show.

Luckily, Tracy has spunk, hair so huge it could almost fight her battles for her, and a whole slew of supporters. These include her excitably awkward best friend Penny (the very entertaining Alex Ellis, who does hilarious character work); Seaweed (Eric B. Anthony, with the smoothest moves on the whole stage), a black dancer she meets in detention, who teaches her the “Peyton Place After Midnight;” and all the other black kids who hang out and dance at the record store owned by Negro Day MC Motormouth Maybelle (Jacqueline B. Arnold, who’s got one mammoth voice). They all want Tracy to win Miss Hairspray 1962 instead of Amber, whose mother will cheat, lie, and screw her way to her daughter’s crowning. And together, in throwback ’60s-style numbers that are a sweet cross of nostalgia and gentle lampoon, they all sing and dance — fabulously — in support of both Tracy and wider cultural tolerance.

Also behind Tracy are her own eccentric but loving mom and dad — Edna, an obese washerwoman, and Wilbur, the fire-cracker owner of a gag store. And it’s with these two that Hairspray’s camp factor moves beyond the mild send-ups of ’60s bubblegum culture and into something, well, bigger. Edna is a role written for monumentally padded drag, and this production casts Ryan Landry, a prolific playwright, a comic who’s performed with Margaret Cho, and a one-time flaming-hoop-jumping Flying Nun. He gets Edna just right, playing her unapologetically her as a man playing a woman, and the portrayal is both thigh-slapping and sympathetic.

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