Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

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Also see John's review of The Rocky Horror Show

Avi Hoffman and David Arisco
Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre kicks off their 2011-12 season with a sensational production of Hairspray. Featuring music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman and a book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, the musical is based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name.

Set in 1962 in Baltimore, Maryland, chubby and cheerful teenager Tracy Turnblad has a dream to dance on "The Corny Collins Show," a local TV dance program based on the real-life "Buddy Deane Show." When Tracy wins a role on the show, she becomes a celebrity overnight. She then launches a campaign to integrate the show. Despite all the fluff and fun, Hairspray is a social commentary on the injustices present in American society in the 1960s. Surely, the city (and the country) was simmering with the discontent of racial inequality long before the infamous Philadelphia Race Riot just two years later in August of 1964.

This production features costumes, choreography and hair that are all bigger than life in a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the styles of the sixties. They almost seem to exist in blissful denial of the racial prejudice of the period, and the judgmental world in which Tracey and her family live. David Arisco as a director has more than done justice to the show by lacing it with kitsch and comedy, and Barbara Flaten provides wonderfully choreography danced with exuberance by a cast of nearly thirty.

Though Tracy (Joline Mujica) is the main character of this show, Hairspray is filled with plum acting roles for the right actors. There are so many that are perfectly cast in this production that one actually hates to see their moments end, as the show returns to the business of furthering the plot. The combination of a bear-sized David Arisco as Edna Turnblad and an endearingly elvish Avi Hoffman as her husband Wilbur is scene-stealing at it's very best. Luckily, their duet, "You're Timeless to Me," includes a reprise, for if it hadn't the audience would have called for one. A joyful and memorable moment indeed. Microphone issues on opening night plagued actor David Arisco. As a director who only takes the stage on occasion, and after shaving his beard and donning a dress, it seemed most unfair to not hear every line of a role in which he shines.

Kim Cozort as Velma Von Tussle is the quintessential Disney-styled villainess. Looking gorgeous in every fashionable costume and wig, she is the character you love to hate, even as she twirls a flaming baton with flair in the song "Miss Baltimore Crabs."

Avery Sommers (Motormouth Maybelle) really just warms up in a sassy "Big Blonde & Beautiful" in the first act. She releases a powerhouse voice, packed with passion in her second act "I Know Where I've Been" that nearly stops the show.

Joline Mujica is likable as Tracy Turnblad, but comes just shy of capturing the infectious energy of the role. This may be due in part to microphone issues. Her voice is sweet, but we never get to hear it soar. This is most noticeable in her opening song "Good Morning Baltimore." She never reaches the level of vocal volume or fervor meant to win us over from the very start. She is paired with Matthew Ragas who does a great job as Link Larkin, avoiding the shallow portrayal provided by Zack Efron in the film. Her quirky friend Penny Pingleton is played by a very funny Julie Kleiner who emerges as a bombshell in her final transformation.

Some of the success of this production comes from the cameo roles. The trio of Talitha Farrow, Renata Eastlick and Tatianna Mott as "The Dynamites," an iconic girl group of the time period, are spot on. Beautiful to both see and hear, they provide a great reminder of the flavor of the '60s. Even Sally Bondi, appearing in a series of older character roles gets a chuckle in each one.

Hairspray opened on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre on August 15, 2002. It received 12 Tony Award nominations—winning eight—including best musical, book, score and direction. The production ran for more than six years, closing on January 4, 2009, after 2,642 performances. It was also adapted as a musical film in 2007.

Hairspray will be appearing through November 19, 2011, at the Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables. Actors' Playhouse is the nonprofit resident theatre company and managing agent of the historic Miracle Theatre on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables. Actors' Playhouse, which has brought home 66 regional Carbonell Awards for artistic excellence, is a Florida Presenting Cultural Organization and one of 22 major cultural institutions in Miami-Dade County. In addition to its Mainstage season, Actors' Playhouse offers a year-round season of Musical Theatre for Young Audiences, a National Children's Theatre Festival, a Theatre Conservatory and Summer Camp Program, as well as educational arts outreach programs for underserved youth, and has initiated a "Young Talent Big Dreams" contest for children in partnership with The Children's Trust. Actors' Playhouse is located at 280 Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, Florida. Performances are usually Wednesday - Saturday at 8:00 PM, and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 PM. Information and tickets may be obtained by contacting the theater at their box office at 305-444-9293, or online at

Tracy Turnblad: Joline Mujica*
Edna Turnblad: David Arisco
Wilbur Turnblad: Avi Hoffman*
Link Larkin: Matthew Ragas*
Motormouth Maybelle: Avery Sommers*
Corny Collins: Christopher A. Kent*
Velma Von Tussle: Kim Cozort*
Amber Von Tussle: Celia Louise Merendi*
Penny Pingleton: Julie Kleiner*
Seaweed J. Stubbs: Ronald Duncan*
Prudy Pingleton/Gym Teacher/Matron: Sally Bondi
Mr. Pinky/Principal/Harrison F. Spritzer: Michael Freshko
The Dynamites: Talitha Farrow*, Renata Eastlick*, and Tatianna Mott
Little Inez: Asher Makeba
Brad: Shain Stroff*
Tammy: Nikki Alfred
Fender: Michael Joseph
Brenda: Nicolette Violet Sweeney
IQ: Jose Luaces*
Lou Ann: Leslie McQueen
Citizens of Baltimore: Marcus Davis, Walter Kemp, II, and Ivore Rousell

Director: David Arisco
Musical Director: David Nagy
Choreography: Barbara Flaten
Scenic Design: Sean McClelland
Lighting Design: Patrick Tennent
Sound Design: Alexander Herrin
Costume Design: Ellis Tillman
Stage Manager: Carl Waisanen*

*Designates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

Photo: Alberto Romeu

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere