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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Good Morning, Newark, Hairspray
Is Here For a Visit

Also see Bob's review of The Pavilion

Hairspray
Brooklynn Pulver and Constantine Rousouli
I'm borrowing from Hairspray's opening song, "Good Morning, Baltimore" to greet you, and tell you that a production of the musical has arrived here. A very young, very energetic and incredibly entertaining cast has been gathered together for the non-Equity bus and truck tour of Hairspray, which has most happily settled in for a week long engagement at the NJ Performing Arts Center in Newark.

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.

Director Matt Lenz and choreographer Danny James Austin have gone above and beyond their duty to recreate the original work of Jack O'Brien and Jerry Mitchell, respectively. Beyond performing this task with meticulous attention to detail, Lenz and Austin have molded their youthful, largely inexperienced cast into a smooth and perfectly integrated, tireless and dynamic ensemble. This cast moves throughout the evening with a precision and enthusiasm worthy of a Broadway opening night.

Brooklynn Pulver comes extremely close to duplicating Marissa Jaret Winokur's Tracy. Though she is not as instantly captivating as Winokur, it did not take long for the delightful Pulver to win me over. Notable contributions are made by the triple threat Christian White as Seaweed and Alyssa Malgeri, who brings welcome added humor to the role of his girlfriend Penny. Dan Ferretti is a fine Wilbur, especially in the real sense of affection for Edna which he displays. Melissa Vanpelt is exceptionally winning as Little Inez, Seaweed's sister. Constantine Rousouli (Link), Happy McPartlin (Velma Von Tussle) and Pearl Thomas (Amber, her daughter), Jarret Mallon (Corny Collins), and Yvette Monique Clark (Motormouth Maybelle) all make notable contributions. Clark's "I Know Where I've Been" makes a strong impact. Justin Barnette makes a solid impression in a number of male character roles, as does Tiiu Eva Rebane performing several roles in the style of their originator, comedienne Jackie Hoffman. And Vedra Chandler, Ms. Gnomiagre, and Nikki Stephenson add some fine licks to "Welcome to the '60s" beyond what I recall hearing when Hairspray opened.

Jerry O'Brien is less larger than life and less sexually enticing as Edna than role originator Harvey Fierstein. O'Brien's Edna remains a plain woman, even when prettily dressed, coiffed and made up. While O'Brien's performance is valid and may even add a bit more poignancy to Edna, it produces perceptibly less pizzazz and humor than did Fierstein's. This is especially true during Edna's duet with husband, Wilbur "(You're) Timeless to Me." Still, O'Brien is fine and funny, and first time audiences will unequivocally enjoy his performance.

Each performer in the 27-member cast is due praise for contributing to the smoothness and buoyancy of this Hairspray. Ditto the 11-piece orchestra under the direction of Jeremy Randall.

All of the necessary elements of the scenic design of Davie Rockwell have been well reproduced for this production. Although a ramp is not placed in front of the pit, there appears to be an especially large playing area onstage at NJPAC which helps the flow of the dances.

My feelings about Hairspray are mirrored by the show's rousing finale, "You Can't Stop the Beat." Hairspray can be corny, the book falters somewhat in the second act, and a couple of weak songs slow things down. However, with a book that brilliantly tackles serious and still not fully resolved social issues without ever ceasing to provide sheer fun, witty, laugh out loud dialogue and lyrics, delightfully propulsive music, rousing choreography, and a terrific cast tuned to smooth precision by the sure hands of both its director and choreographer, this touring Hairspray is totally irresistible.

Hairspray continues performances (Tues.-Thurs. 7:30 p.m./ Fri. & Sat. 8p.m./ Mats. Thurs. 1:30 p.m./ Sat. 2 p.m./ Sun. 3 p.m.) through February 4, 2007 at NJPAC Prudential Hall, One Center Street, Newark, NJ 07102. Box Office: 888-466-5722; online www.njpac.org/.

Hairspray Book by Mark O'Donnell / Thomas Meehan; Music by Marc Shaiman; Lyrics by Scott Wittman / Marc Shaiman; directed Matt Lenz; original direction by Jack O'Brien

Cast:
Edna Turnblad………………………...Jerry O'Boyle
Tracy Turnblad…………………Brooklynn Pulver
Amber Von Tussle…………………….Pearl Thomas
Penny Pingleton…………………….Alyssa Malgeri
Motormouth Maybelle……Yvette Monique Clark
Velma Von Tussle…………………Happy Mcpartlin
Wilbur Turnblad………………………...Dan Ferretti
Link Larkin………………..Constantine Rousouli
Seaweed J. Stubbs…………………..Christian White
Corny Collins……………………….Jarrett Mallon
Little Inez……………………..........Melissa Vanpelt
Brad…………………………………..David Rossetti
Tammy……………………………...Sharon Malane
Fender……………………………….Ryan Overberg
Brenda……………………………..Laurie Veldheer
Sketch………………………………………..Joel Maki
Shelley……………………………...Kristin Collura
I.Q.………………………....Stephen Michael Kane
Lou Ann…………………………..Summer Broyhill
Prudy Pingleton/Etal.………………...Tiiu Eve Rebane
Harriman F. Spritzer/Etal…………Justin Barrnette
Duane……………………………………David Heard
Gilbert…………………………………...Jarran Muse
Pearl/Dynamite…………………...Nikki Stephenson
Peaches/Dynamite……………………Ms. Gnomiagre
Cindy Watkins/Dynamite………….Vedra Chandler
Thad…………………………………Daniel Bentley
Swings……………James Clark, Ralph Meitzler
Lauren Tartaglia


Photo: (c) 2006 Phil Martin


Be sure to Check the current schedule for theatre in New Jersey


- Bob Rendell



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