Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Welcome to the '60s: Hairspray Dances onto Paper Mill Stage
Also see Bob's review of All's Well That Ends Well
Based on the classic John Waters film comedy of the same name and set in 1962 Baltimore, Hairspray tells of white teenager Tracy Turnblad who, despite being obese, manages to be selected to be a regular on a local "American Bandstand" style television show. The show is segregated with a once-a-month "Negro day." This is unacceptable to the socially conscious Tracy who, along with her friends, black and white, set about to integrate the show. As in the Waters' film, the role of Tracy's mother, Edna, is designed to be played larger than life by a female impersonator.
Paper Mill has assembled a strong, first rate cast. Christopher Sieber is very much his own Edna. He effortlessly captures the strong, maternal Edna who takes in laundry to help provide for her daughter and the ineffectual husband whom she loves. Sieber's deft movement, and most particularly his dance movement, is dazzling. His distinctive, strong bass-baritone is employed most amusingly, but would be more effective, and not bring Sieber out of character, if it were used more sparingly. (For those who need to know, Harvey Fierstein's larger than life, hilarious and poignant portrayal remains the gold standard for Edna.)
As Tracy, Christine Danelson is a dynamic singer-dancer whose performance is flawed by a lack of modulation. Danelson comes on like gangbusters from the moment the curtain rises. There is a loss of charm when Tracy, rather than being an underdog battling to overcome impossible odds and societal expectations, seems ready to take Broadway by storm. Danelson did eventually won me over, and it would not surprise me if someday Hairspray audiences will boast that they saw her here.
There are an unusually large number of featured roles which provide spotlight opportunities for the strong 28-member cast. Constantine Rousouli as heartthrob Link and Kasey Marino as dance show host Corny Collins are charming and likeable. Donna English is amusing as villain show producer Velma Von Tussle. Susan Mosher (Gym Teacher, et al.) and Kevin Meaney (Mr. Pinky, et al.) add to the production's fun in multiple comic roles. Lee Roy Reams charms as Tracy's good-hearted father, Wilbur.
Caliaf St. Aubyn is a sweet, gentle Seaweed to Alex Ellis' loopy Penny. Natasha Yvette Williams resists going over the top as his mother Motormouth Maybelle, and Arielle Campbell charms as his sister, the sweet and sassy Little Inez.
Director Matt Lenz, who was associate director of the original Broadway production, is credited for re-creation of the "Original Broadway Direction" of Jack O'Brien. Michele Lynch is credited with re-creation of Jerry Mitchell's original choreography. However, each clearly has successfully made creative contributions in reproducing Hairspray for its current incarnation.
Musical highlights include Sieber and Reams' delightfully charming duet "Timeless to Me"; Tracy, Edna and The Dynamites' joyful "Welcome to the '60s"; and the propulsive, rousing finale, "You Can't Stop the Beat."
Hairspray continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday-Sunday 7 pm/ Thursday, Saturday and Sun. 1:30 pm) through October 24, 2010, at Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 07041. Box Office: 973-376-4343. Online: www.papermill.org.
Hairspray Book by Mark O'Donnell / Thomas Meehan; Music by Marc Shaiman; Lyrics by Scott Wittman / Marc Shaiman; direction recreated by Matt Lenz; original direction by Jack O'Brien