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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Hairspray is a Big Girl Now in Concert at the 5h Avenue

Also see David's reviews of Moon Over Buffalo and Other Desert Cities


Eric Polani Jensen and Kat Ramsburg
Photo by John Pai
A few seasons back when 5th Avenue Theatre and Seattle Men's Chorus last teamed for a musical, it was a pleasantly forgettable version of the now musty '40s musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Hairspray, which actually premiered out of town at the 5th in just about ready for Broadway form in 2002, returns to the 5th in an in-concert format, with the Men of the SMC offering booming and boisterous back-up to a cast that twinkles so brightly that you can't pick out a scene-stealer—there is a stageful of them!

Book authors Thomas Meehan and Mark O'Donnell based the musical lovingly but not slavishly on the cult-hit 1998 John Waters film, and found the ideal collaborators in songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Set in 1962, it's the hilarious and heartwarming saga of how buxom and big Baltimore teen Tracy Turnblad rises to dance show TV fame, pushes Baltimore toward racial integration, and gets her dreamboat guy, with the help of a diverse group of chums, and her uber-supportive parents. Director David Armstrong's well-realized and ideally cast show feels like anything but a concert, as the cast almost never refers to their scripts in hand, and high-step and kick their way through some fairly challenging and period perfect choreography by Troy Wageman.

Ex-Seattleite Kat Ramsburg is spunky, touching and packing some fierce pipes as heroine Tracy on such solos as "Good Morning Baltimore" and "I Can Hear the Bells." Eric Polani Jensen dons the apparel and wigs required to take on the key role of Tracy's larger than life mom Edna, notably worn by Divine in the original film and Harvey Fierstein who opened the show on Broadway. Jensen's is a warm, funny yet still outlandish approach and it is a pleasure to hear a legit voice embrace Edna's numbers. Allan Fitzpatrick is corny and cuddly as Dad Wilbur, and you feel genuine middle-aged romantic sparks when he and Jensen duet on "Timeless to Me," another crowd pleasing tune from the memorable score. Aaron Finley is adorkable as Tracy's teen-dream Link Larkin, a low-rent version of such '60s leading men as James Darren and Ricky Nelson, and shines on his featured numbers "It Takes Two" and "Without Love."

Rising Seattle star Kirsten de Lohr Holland is outstanding and nearly unrecognizable as Tracy's nerdy bestie Penny Pingleton. She stands out in such numbers as "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now" and "Without Love", and has great chemistry with smooth moving and silky voiced Heath Saunders ably inhabiting the role of Seaweed K. Stubbs, her African-American sweetie. Seaweed's mama, disc-spinning music maven Motor Mouth Maybelle, is hilariously embodied by Cynthia Jones, another force of nature actress/vocalist, who wrings laughter and tears aplenty and nearly brings the house down with her renditions of "Big, Blonde and Beautiful" and especially the soulful anthem "I Know Where I've Been."

A high profile audience favorite Jerick Hoffer (aka Jinkx Monsoon of "Ru-Paul's Drag Race" glory) continues his meteoric career rise with the most Waters-esque turn of the evening, as bitchy former beauty queen Velma Von Tussle, making much out of one of the score's lesser numbers "Miss Baltimore Crabs" and spewing delicious comic venom as a Velma by way of the Wicked Witch of the West. Hoffer is only 25, yet makes us believe he is the mother of Tracy's rival Amber Von Tussle, played with a perfect air of mean girl sass by Jessica Skerritt. Louis Hobson packs a Dick Clark wholesome vibe as dance show host Corny Collins and displays his rich voice smoothly on "Nicest Kids in Town" and "Hairspray." Comedy veterans Jeff Steitzer and Bobbi Kotula handle the assorted minor character roles with chameleonic charisma, with Steitzer excelling as the gayer than laughter Mr. Pinky and Kotula a riot as the stereotypical butch gal P.E. teacher. Camille Collacho shows real promise as Seaweed's kid sister Little Inez, and a special shout-out to Candi Hall, Alexandria Henderson and Sarah Russell as girl group the Dynamites, for their featured number "Welcome to the Sixties."

Musical direction by Dennis Coleman is polished, and he leads a terrific 16-piece band through the score. Lighting and projections designer Robert J. Aguilar does ace work, with suggestive visuals totally negating the need for scenery. The glittery, gaudy and gorgeous costumes by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case would rock a full production, let alone a concert version.

Hairspray ran June 20-23, 2012, at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Ave., downtown Seattle. For more information, visit www.5thavenue.org/show/hairspray-in-concert.



- David Edward Hughes



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