Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
The story centers around Tracy Turnblad (a delightful Niki Metcalf), a girl with big dreams and even bigger hair who takes on the fight to end segregation in 1960s Baltimore. Her obsession is the all-white dance party television show, "The Corny Collins Show," produced by the bigoted Velma Von Tussle (Addison Garner) as a vehicle to promote her daughter Amber (Ryahn Evers). After winning a spot on the show, Tracy becomes an overnight sensation and tries to use her new-found fame to bring her Black friends into the regular cast. Her mother, Edna Turnblad (a humorous Andrew Levitt), is stuck in her own version of the past and has to try to keep up with her daughter. Before the final curtain, Tracy, Edna, and their rag-tag group have helped the nation see that "You Can't Stop the Beat" of progress and equality.
This non-Equity touring production is a replicate of the original 2002 production, a technicolor kaleidoscope of fun, humor and heart. Matt Lenz has recreated Jack O'Brien's Tony-winning original direction, and the bouncy choreography of Jerry Mitchell is revisited lovingly by Robbie Roby. The Tony-nominated scenic and lighting designs of David Rockwell and Kenneth Posner are also present with lively color and zest (though scaled down a bit). North Carolina native William Ivey Long's Tony-winning costume design is still a highlight. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's music and lyrics brilliantly evoke 1962 pop sounds, and the songs are as fresh and fun today as they were twenty years ago; this score is one of the best written for the stage thus far in this century.
Niki Metcalf holds her own as the plucky Tracy Turnblad, taking advantage of every moment to win the hearts of her audience. Andrew Levitt has taken a very logical path to the role of Edna Turnblad. He received international acclaim for his competition under the drag persona Nina West on the eleventh season of "RuPaul's Drag Race." (Levitt even performed as Harvey Fierstein, the originator of the role of Edna on Broadway, on the "Snatch Game" segment of the show.) He can also be seen in the new film Weird: The Al Yankovic Story as Divine, the drag star who originated the role of Edna in the John Waters cult classic. Here, Levitt provides an adequate portrayal of the harried housewife but seems to rely too much on comedic postures and facial expressions to land jokes that should not be so labored.
Sandie Lee's Motormouth Maybelle, the matriarch of the Black community, was an audience favorite at the performance I attended. Ms. Lee received thunderous applause for her rendition of the eleven o'clock number, "I Know Where I've Been." And though her singing ability is clear, her portrayal lacks the emotional depth I had hoped for. Unfortunately, this feeling pervades the performances in this production. Relying too much on the strength of the book, score, and original design, this cast sometimes feels more like a local stock theater production.
In the past two decades, Hairspray has cemented its place in theatre history as a true classic. It is always entertaining, and its message is timeless. And though this particular production may lack the spark of the original, it is still an enjoyable night of theatre.
Presented by Truist Broadway, Hairspray runs through November 20, 2022, at Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. Durham NC. For tickets and information, please visit www.dpacnc.com or www.ticketmaster.com, call 919-680-2787, or visit the Ticket Center at DPAC in person. For more information on the tour, please visit https://hairspraytour.com.
Music and Arrangements, Lyrics: Marc Shaiman