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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Hairspray Holds Beautifully at
Tacoma Musical Playhouse

Also see David's reviews of In the Heights and The Cider House Rules Part Two

Hairspray
Frank Kohel and Andrew Fry
Tacoma Musical Playhouse deserves a big hand for doing a stylish job with the first locally produced staging of the Tony Award-winning hit musical version of the John Waters film Hairspray. Produced at a fraction of the size of the original (which first rocked Seattle with its smash out-of-town tryout at the 5th Avenue, where it returned two seasons later with a winning national tour company) TMP's version succeeds, with some stellar casting, a somewhat gentler approach to its comedy, and because the piece (laugh-laden book by Mark Brokaw and Thomas Meehan, tuneful score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) is so darned good at tickling the funnybone and touching the heart.

Who by now, thanks to the musical's Broadway and movie version triumphs, doesn't know the story of early '60s teen queen wannabe, the chubby but cuddly Tracy Turnblad, whose dream is to be on the "American Bandstand"-like "Corny Collins Show" in her hometown of Baltimore. Teenybopper glory goes from being a fat chance for Tracy to a dream come true when she auditions and wins a slot (replacing a preggers cast member) on the show. She also starts to win the heart of the show's male heartthrob Link Larkin, who previously has been the property of obnoxious blonde beauty Amber Von Tussle, whose vapid and vicious Mama Velma produces the show. Despite Velma's best efforts, Tracy, supported by her triple plus size mama Edna and dorky but dear old novelty shop owner dad Wilbur, prevails—and also helps turn every day into "Negro Day" by integrating the show with her pals Seaweed and Little Inez, and their own unstoppable D.J. mama, Motormouth Maybelle.

Julie Drummond has all the heart and voice you could ask for to play Tracy, and from her opening "Good Morning Baltimore" to leading the fabulous finale number "You Can't Stop the Beat," she takes the role and runs with it, playing Tracy as a good-hearted but street smart cookie who deserves her place in the Baltimore sun. Frank Kohel, seen in dozens of stellar performances in Puget Sound from Sancho Panza to Archibald Craven, dons his Edna drag with pride and gives her a certain "Edith Bunker-ish" softness and super vocals that almost make you wish Edna had a big song of her own. He is charmingly coupled with Andrew Fry as Edna's ever-lovin' hubby Wilbur. Fry is nerd-tastic and lovable, and he and Kohel bring down the house with their show-stopping second act duet "Timeless to Me." Taylor Niemeyer is dead=on perfect as Tracy's ditzy best pal Penny, and nails every ones of her lines with comedic precision, not to mention pairing attractively with Charles Simmons, one of the two actors cast in the role of her afrotastic beau Seaweed. Kae Blum is a hissably hilarious Velma, and well matched by stage daughter Amber, ably enacted by Leah Wickstrom. Galen Wicks may not have the matinee idol looks of some previous Link Larkins, but he has the voice and talent, and the chemistry with Drummond's Tracy. Tena DuBerry mines some gold by slyly soft-selling her Motormouth Maybelle character before shaking the house on her vocals, especially "I Know Where I've Been." Finally, a nod to Kathy Kluska's cuckoo comedic capers as a slew of female authority figures, many of whom seem to hail from the isle of Lesbos.

Director/Choreographer Jon Douglas Rake handles both jobs most agreeably, and the show's energy and spirited dancing keep it floating in the stratosphere. Musical director Jeffrey Stvrtecky gets a great sound out of his small band, and generally, if not always, balances them well with his vocalists. For color and outlandish flair, hats off to costume designers Joan Schlegel and Ruby Doherty, and Will Abrahmse's sets are pizazzy looking and happily non-clunky for scene changes.

This Hairspray is selling out and it deserves to. Catch it if you can score a ticket!

Hairspray runs through October 17, 2010, at Tacoma Musical Playhouse, 7116 Sixth Avenue in Tacoma. For tickets and other information visit www.tmp.org.

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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