The prime example of this production's top outside talent is Lillian Castillo, a young veteran of southwestern regional theatre who is every bit as appealing and as much of a find as Broadway's Marissa Jaret Winokur and the film's Nikki Blonsky. The tiny Castillo has a big, but pleasingly clear singing voice and moves with grace and animation. Her comic timing is perfect and some of her best moments are reactions to the characters around her, like her dreamy infatuated gazes at Link, who is unaware of her adoration. On the "surprising" side of the ledger is Chicago's Michael Aaron Lindner as Edna. Lindner, a Jeff Award winner for his portrayal of Sweeney Todd with Porchlight, plays (and resembles) Edna as played by Divine rather than Harvey Fierstein. It's a smart choice not to attempt an imitation of Harvey, and Lindner has both the comic chops and especially the singing voice to pull it off. His physical height also provides an opportunity for built-in laughs by casting him against the diminutive "Saturday Night Live" alum Tim Kazurinsky as Wilbur. Kazurinsky, making his musical theater debut, gives us a genuine and warm Wilburnever stooping for easy laughs. He and Lindner give us a lot of fun with a sexually suggestive "You're Timeless to Me" and Kazurinsky's head being at breast level to Lindner's Edna makes for some easy, but nonetheless fun jokes.
In an interview, director-choreographer Mader said she returned to the source for inspiration. This is most evident in the casting of Lindner as Edna by way of Devine. His rough-hewn bass in place of Fierstein's gravelly voice gives Mader's vision an earthier texture, to be sure, and together with a heightened sexual energy, her direction does give the piece a certain Watersian subversiveness. Not so much to be uncomfortable, though, and the musical's sunniness still comes through. Essential to this high-energy party is Mader's superb young ensemble. After struggling a little with their portrayal of seedy locals in the opening number "Good Morning, Baltimore," they're completely in their element as high school kids. Their execution of Mader's 1960s-influenced dances is impeccable throughout, though, and the 16-member ensemble is every bit as successful and important to the show as its leads. They not only set a high bar early in the show for energy, but impressively are still able to find a way build up to an even higher plane for the finale, "You Can't Stop the Beat."
The sets by Marcus Stephens are in the colorful and cartoonish vein of the David Rockwell Broadway sets, but scaled down to Drury Lane size. A series of flats from which settings like the Turnblad living room and Penny's bedroom emerge as cutouts on a second level, they set a fun and fanciful tone for the piece. Kurt Alger's wigs and pastel-infused costumes, though, seem in no way scaled backas outrageous and spectacular as would befit the most demanding of drag queens.
While I've always been a fan of Hairspray, in both its original Broadway production and the feature film, this productionthanks largely to the breakout performances by Reese and Fieldshas given me new respect for the writing by composer Marc Shaiman, Lyricist Scott Wittman and bookwriters Thomas Meehan and Mark O'Donnell. Mader seems to have a sort of "no number left behind" strategy which somehow succeeds in making every song a near-showstopping winner. She doesn't stop the beatat least not until an extended curtain call is over. And even then we don't want it stop.
Hairspray will be performed through June 17, 2012, at the Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois. For ticket information, call the Box Office at 630-530-0111 or visit Ticketmaster or visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com.