Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

These Divine Legs Were Made for Dancing
Albuquerque Little Theatre

Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Stephanie's review of The Nance

Christy Burbank
Photo by Randy Talley Photography
This is one goofy musical, a story where all the outcasts of early 1960s high school society get to win. Hairspray is an adaption of the 1988 John Waters film. Under the expert hands of director Henry Avery, the Albuquerque Little Theatre production of Hairspray is an ensemble performance rich in song and dance. And while no single performance dominates, the balance of acting, singing and dance across the entire cast is strong, colorful, bright and joyous.

The story takes place in 1962 Baltimore and follows the chubby teen Tracy Turnblad (Christy Burbank) as she pursues her dream to dance on the local after-school TV show "The Corny Collins Show." I remember a show like this in the early '60s where I grew up in Detroit. These shows were all over the country, local versions of "American Bandstand."

The action gets going when there is an opening for a dancer on the show. One of the staff dancers has to take a leave of absence because of her pregnancy. With the support of her mom Edna Turnblad (Joshua Vallano) and her BFF Penny Pingleton (Veronica Baca), Tracy tries out for the role and wins.

Tracy turns to a black friend, Seaweed (Paul Ashby), for dance moves, and the play tilts toward Tracy's new goal of integrating the pure-white dance program. Tracy's attempts, failure, then re-attempts at integrating the show serve as the core plot elements. She is at first thwarted by the supper-white mother-daughter team of Velma (Emily Melville) and Amber Von Tussle (Kelli Ingle), who resist anything that might knock them off their central pedestal on the "Corny Collins Show."

In the movie version of Hairspray, Tracy's mom was played by the infamous—and huge—transvestite Divine. The idea of having Edna played by a male in drag continues in the musical, which is a good decision, since it's a source of continual comedy. While Divine is irreplaceable, the concept still has legs—and strong, sturdy legs at that.

Avery tends to save the most challenging productions for his own direction, which is wise. His deep experience, confidence and knowing touch—plus his flair for the Big Show—serve ALT well. It's hard to imagine Les Misérables directed by anyone in Albuquerque other than Avery. His skills shine in Hairspray.

On opening night there were some creaky moments where the energy was in place but the cohesion took a second to two to catch up. I would guess this has been ironed out within a few more performances. Overall, this physically complicated show came off with high precision.

Peter Bennett does a nice job with the choreography—a big role in this dance-centric story—and Ryan Jason Cook does a terrific job, as usual, with the set design, particularly the central power-packed prop in the final scene. Absolutely wonderful. Kudos to all of the performers and crew.

Hairspray, with music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman and book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, is based on the 1988 John Waters film. The ALT production is directed by Henry Avery. Performances will run at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, through June 19, 2016. The show starts at 7:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2:00 pm on Sundays. On Thursday, June 9, there will be a performance at 7:30. Tickets are $24 for adults, $22 for seniors (65 and above), $20 for students (13 to college), and $14 for children (12 and under). You can buy tickets online at or by phone at 242-4750, ext. 2.

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