Regional Reviews: Other Regions
Hairspray (with book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman) also delivers a powerful message in an entertaining, colorful way. It reminds us of the horrible legacy of racism (though "legacy" may not be the correct term, since we still have far too much of it) and encourages us to remember that everyone should have the chance to dance.
The conflict at the core of Hairspray is that "The Corny Collins Show," a local afterschool TV dance show airing in Baltimore in the early 1960s islike much of the nation at that timesegregated. Only good-looking, popular white kids (or, as one of the first numbers calls them, "The Nicest Kids in Town") get to dance on the show. Sure, once a month they have "Negro Day," but that's not enough for Tracy Turnblad (Katy Geraghty), a zaftig teenage girl who decides to audition to be a dancer on the show despite the worries of her mother Edna (Daniel T. Parker), who fears Tracy will be rejected based solely on her weight. It's a reasonable fear, especially with the snooty attitude of the show's producer Velma Von Tussle (Kate Mulligan) and her bully of a daughter Amber (Leanne A. Smith), one of the show's teen dancers. (Velma speaksaccidentally on purpose?of steering the kids "in the white direction.")
But Tracy is friends with Seaweed J. Stubbs (Christian Bufford), a black student at her high school whose mother, a record store owner named Motormouth Maybelle (Greta Oglesby), is the host of "Negro Day" on "The Corny Collins Show," and she doesn't understand why anyone who can dance well enough can't be on the show. Oglesby absolutely slays the audience with her performance of "I Know Where I've Been," bringing the audience to its feet at the performance I attended.
Director Christopher Liam Moore takes this message of inclusion and amps it up by adding special needs performers to the cast, including kids with cerebral palsy and spinal cord injuries (Jenna Bainbridge, who plays Tracy's best friend Penny Pingleton), bringing a new level of diversity to a show that already celebrates it.
But a powerful, positive message does not a great musical make. Great music and an entertaining book, plus thrilling choreography, powerful performances, and top-notch staging and costumes are required for thatall of which this production of Hairspray has in spades. Nina Ball's set is gorgeous: a large block that rotates to become (with the help of propping that rolls in and out) the exterior of the Turnblad home, the high school, a jail, andwith the drop of a curtainthe studio of "The Corny Collins Show." It's all set on a stage that is covered with a stylized map of Baltimore, with period-perfect additions like the pink toilet and vanity in the Turnblad's bathroom. Costumes by Susan Tsu are colorful and true to character and period (special kudos for Mr. Pinky's pink houndstooth suit), and her wigs (especially Tracy's ) appropriately gargantuan.
The kids rebel against the strictures of the time, despite the threats from Velma Von Tussle and the racist power structureabout which Motormouth Maybelle warns the kids, telling them to expect "a whole lot of ugly coming at you from an endless parade of stupid" if they attempt to integrate their favorite TV show. By the time the cast are taking their bows, this goal will have been achieved, villains will have been thwarted, lovers brought together, and happiness will reignjust as we expect in musicals, even ones with a message.
Hairspray, through October 27, 2019, at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Angus Bowmer Theatre, 20 E Main St., Ashland OR. Check the calendar at www.osfashland.org for specific dates and times. Ticket are $55-$155 and can be purchased at the same website.