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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Hairspray

Despite a few technical gremlins, which stopped the show as certainly as (if much less happily than) many of its musical numbers, Hairspray, which world-premiered in Seattle after two weeks of previews, seems assured of arriving on Broadway to a welcoming reception from critics and audiences alike.

Librettists Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan seized on a movie property, one of the more lighthearted and innocent pieces from the John Waters catalogue. EdnaThey ideally teamed with composer Marc Shaiman to provide a Kennedy era bubble-gum rock mixed with rhythm & blues sound, set with nifty and zany lyrics by Shaiman and his writing/life partner Scott Wittman. Add in that hot Full Monty team of director Jack O'Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell, the ideally cast Harvey Fierstein (pictured at left) in Divine's movie role as Edna Turnblad, and Broadway star-in-the-making Marissa Jaret Winokur as Edna's determinedly upbeat and courageous daughter Tracy, and you have a feel-good Broadway musical that can best be described as Bye Bye Birdie with a social conscience.

1962 Baltimore is the setting in which Winokur's zaftig and zesty Tracy longs to join the cool kids who perform on The Corny Collins show (think American Bandstand but with a smooth, singing host). Right at the top, in the infectious "Good Morning Baltimore" number, Winokur shows us she can beat her drum just as loud as Sutton Foster in Thoroughly Modern Millie, and will probably follow Foster to the Tony podium next year. Fierstein expertly makes you forget he's as man in a dress and captures the essence of Tracy's downtrodden but supportive mother, abetted by veteran
Tracy and Penny
Marissa Jaret Winokur and Kerry Butler as Tracy Turnblad and Penny Pingleton
character actor Dick Latessa as Edna's husband, novelty store owner Wilbur. Conflict rears its bitchy head in the form of Tracy's vapidly blonde nemesis Amber Von Tussle (the sassy and supercharged Laura Bell Bundy) and her equally bleached blonde monster of a mother, Velma (laugh-riot Linda Hart), who produces the Collins show and views Tracy as competition for her daughter's big break as well as for Amber's dim but dear hunk of a boyfriend Link Larkin (the handsome and appealing Matthew Morrison). Secondary couple Penny Pingleton and her African-American beau Seaweed (the spectacular Kerry Butler of Bat Boy fame and the electric Corey Reynolds) play into the show's social undercurrent about Tracy wanting to integrate the Collins show.

Tracy and Link
Marissa Jaret Winokur and Matthew Morrison as Tracy Turnblad and Link Larkin
It takes no rocket scientist to see that love and rock 'n' roll will conquer all, but it goes down agreeably and with less of a forced feel-good persuasion than many a crowd-pleaser show has had. And please the crowd it does, whether it's Winokur's tinkly "I Can Hear The Bells" ode to Link, Hart's played-to-the hilt villainy on "Velma's Cha-Cha," Fierstein and Latessa's charmingly kitschy duet (with built-in and deserved encore) "Timeless to Me," or such rousing production numbers as "The Big Dollhouse" (complete with its wink at the musical Gypsy), the exuberant and deliciously staged "Welcome to the '60s" and the oh so catchy closer "You Can't Stop The Beat."

There is also the substantial contribution of the huge voiced and endlessly endearing Mary Bond Davis as Seaweed's platter-spinning mama, Motormouth Maybelle, who waxes comic in a fantastic paean to people of size called "Big, Blonde, and Beautiful," and soulful in the inspirational "I Know Where I've Been." Clarke Thorell is winning and easy on the ear as Corny, and a pint-sized dynamo named Danielle Eugenia Wilson draws our attention as Seaweed's kid sister Little Inez. Finally, without a song to call her own, Jackie Hoffman is a scene-stealer supreme (and the most Watersesque personage on the stage) as Penny's frumpy mother and a succession of sour-faced authority figures.

The show is also a smash in the design departments, from David Rockwell's glorious Technicolor sets, to William Ivey Long's hilariously apt costumes, to Kenneth Posner's dazzling lighting design. Harold Wheeler's always apt and agreeable orchestrations make the show sound glorious. Unless I miss my guess, Hairspray will be blowing audiences away on Broadway and on tour for years to come, but thanks to the folks at the 5th Avenue, Seattle audiences, for once, can say we got to see it here first!

Hairspray runs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through June 23. For further information visit their website at www.5thavenuetheatre.org, and for more information on Hairspray on Broadway go to www.hairspraythemusical.com.

More production photos.


Photos: Paul Kolnik




- David-Edward Hughes



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