Hairspray Holds Up at
Also see David's review of Love and Taxes
With some trepidation I entered the 5th Avenue Theatre, just a little over two years after the musical Hairspray premiered here in Seattle to an ecstatic reception which led to its ultimate Broadway triumph. Would seeing a touring company dampen my enthusiasm for a show which I feel is one of the few standout musicals of the decade? The answer is a jubilant no, for Hairspray holds up very well indeed, a testament to Marc Shaiman's transportingly tuneful music, Shaiman and Scott Witttman's wickedly funny lyrics, and Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan's sublime adaptation of John Waters' cult classic film comedy.
The tale of how big-hearted, big girl Tracy Turnblad, her blowzy but loving mother Edna, their family and friends help integrate the early 1960s music scene is still a swift moving musical fantasy delight, thanks to Jack O'Brien's skilled direction, Jerry Mitchell's kicky choreography, and a cast (many new to the tour as of the Seattle run) who hit pay dirt with performances in the mold of the original cast, yet distinctly and winningly their own.
Stepping into the formidable heels of such prior Ednas as the inimitable Harvey Fierstein and the touring company's originator Bruce Vilanch is veteran stand-up comedian John Pinette, and his Edna is a sweetheart. Pinette actually sings a tad better than Fierstein, and you stop thinking of him as a man in a dress very quickly, as he develops a warm camaraderie with Keala Settle' s touching Tracy. Settle brings great humanity to her core role, an impressive voice, and an abiding understanding of how to act a lyric that is pretty rare in young musical theatre performer's today.
Chandra Lee Schwartz is a real comic find as Tracy's best friend Penny Pingleton, scoring big laughs throughout, and a fine match for her onstage love match Seaweed, played with charisma and vocal prowess by Alan Mingo, Jr. Austin Miller as Tracy's dreamboat Link Larkin is a delicious blend of such teen heartthrobs as Bobby Rydell and Tab Hunter, with a really fine voice to boot. Charlotte Crossley is earth mother love itself as big-hearted Motormouth Maybelle, and her anthem "I Know Where I've Been" is a crown jewel amongst the many musical treasures of the show. Susan Cella's Velma Von Tussle is an appropriately Cruella De Vil-ish creation, though Worth Williams could amp up her own witchery as Velma's bad seed daughter Amber. Stephen DeRosa is an amiable Wilbur Turnblad, though he reads a bit too young to be spouting the character's borscht belt remarks with real conviction. However, he and Pinette do a swell job on their act two showstopper, "Timeless to Me."
Troy Britton Johnson has the toothy charm of TV host Corny Collins down pat, Shannon Antalan grabs some attention in her turn as Seaweed's sis Inez, and in various roles as the Male and Female authority figures, Kenny Morris and Joanna Glushak are models of versatility and comic timing.
The dynamic and tireless ensemble do Mitchell's choreography proud, and Shaiman's vocal arrangements and Hugh Wheeler's orchestrations are being well looked after. David Rockwell's smashing candy-colored set (upgraded a bit from what Seattle saw originally), William Ivey Long's abundant and ebullient costumes, Kenneth Posner's splendid lighting design, and Paul Huntley's flamboyantly fabulous wigs and hair all conspire to create an entertainment package that is hard to beat. Indeed, this first rate tour proves that, in the words of Hairspray's rousing show closer, "You Can't Stop the Beat."
The national tour of Hairspray runs through September 26, 2004 at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle. For further information, visit the 5th Avenue Theatre on-line at http://www.5thavenuetheatre.org.