Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Based on the much grittier John Waters film, the musical (score by Mark Shaiman and Scott Witman, book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan) is set in the early 1960s, as America is awakening from its post-World-War-II snooze and the children of the post-war era begin to drive tastes and attitudes. High school kids in Baltimore crowd around their TV sets to watch the latest dance crazes on the "Corny Collins Show." The kids they are watching are, indeed, the "nicest kids in town," even if they are all white in a town that has a substantial black population and has experienced integration pressures from black high school students and their parents.
Tracy Turnblad (Taylor M. Hartsfield) is one of those kids who watches religiously. She dances well and knows all the moves, so when a slot opens up to be on the show, Tracy rushes to audition. But Tracy doesn't conform to the look of the other kids on the show, and she is mocked for her size by producer Velma Von Tussle (Camryn Zelinger) and her daughter Amber (Ellie Wyman) before she even gets a chance to strut her stuff.
Eventually, though, Tracy is able to dance for Corny Collins (Jordan Goodsell) himself, who hires her over his producer's objections. Tracy is a sensation, and she is able to use her celebrity to lobby for the inclusion of the black kids, who had been confined to appearing one day a month.
Hairspray is a show that dances its way into audience's hearts, helped along by upbeat songs such as "Good Morning, Baltimore," "Welcome to the '60s," and "You Can't Stop the Beat."
And there's a glimmer of emerging feminism in the mix, as Tracy's mom Edna (Joe Tish) emerges from her housecoat and slippers to bedazzle, as she shakes her hausfrau image and becomes a plus-size beauty queen. In a tradition taken from the original film, Edna is played by a man in drag.
Kari Hayter's spare but colorful production puts the action all over the 100-seat theatre, including behind big chunks of the audience. The playing space allows for the large cast to have a great time executing Kelly Todd and Christopher M. Albrecht's energetic choreography. Putting the cast all around also brings the audience into the action, and it's easy to root for Tracy and Edna to succeed.
Ms. Hartsfield and Mr. Tish make it easy as well. Both exhibit the kind of playful energy that makes their characters so endearing, and there's a lot of love going on between audience and actors.
Among the supporting cast, Sarah Pierce stands out as Tracy's pal Penny Pingleton, finding love as she blossoms from being the shy girl with glasses. Mr. Goodsell imbues Corny Collins with a good deal more humanity and a good deal less smarm than the way this character is typically played. Elizabeth Adabale, LaRece Hawkins, and Jenaé Thompson warble in great harmony as the Dynamites. Robin Walton makes the second act's "You're Timeless to Me" earn its applause. And, after a bit of a weak start, Cody Bianchi makes it clear that he was a good choice to play against type as heartthrob Link Larkin.
This production of Hairspray will show you why Chance Theater attracts such committed and enthusiastic audiences.
Chance Theater presents Hairspray through August 16, 2015, at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm, and Sunday at 2pm. Chance Theater is located at 5522 E. La Palma Avenue, Anaheim. Tickets may be purchased by calling (714) 777-3033 or online at chancetheater.com.
Book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman. Directed by Kari Hayter, with Kelly Todd and Christopher M. Albrecht (Choreography), Robyn Manion (Music Direction), Matt Scarpino (Scenic Design), Matt Schleicher (Lighting Design), Bradley Lock (Costume Design), Daniel Tator (Sound Design), Christopher Booher (Wigs and Make-up), and Masako Tobaru (Props Design).
The principal cast includes Taylor M. Hartsfield, Joe Tish, Robin Walton, Sarah Pierce, Cody Bianchi, Ellie Wyman, Camryn Zelinger, Xavier J. Watson, LaJoi Whitten, Timyra-Joi, Elizabeth Adabale, LaRece Hawkins, Jenaé Thompson, Karen Webster, and Corky Loupe.
- Bill Eadie