Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Also see Cindy's review of FlashdanceThe Musical
Seeing it in 2018, one cannot escape how topical the story of race relations and integration is. It gives you something to think about ... and that's a good thing.
Baltimore in the 1960s. Tracy Turnblad (the adorable Mary DiGangi) wants nothing more than to be on Baltimore's answer to "American Bandstand," "The Corny Collins Show." Along the way, she becomes an integration activist who convinces the community to not only join her, but to turn Baltimore into a progressive prototype that, unfortunately, even today, many cities have not yet embraced. A story of love, regardless of color, is delightfully and pointedly portrayed, and the book comes shining through as it never has before.
Director Bill Fennelly leads his cast of 27 flawlessly through the '60s with an innocence and naivete that does not cloy, but endears. The choreography by David Wanstreet represents that innocent era and, good for Mr. Wanstreet, represents what the book is saying rather than "just" adding dances.
Helen Gregory leads a nine-piece orchestra that could not sound more ideal: flawless, fluid, lovely playing from all concerned. The sound, by Maltz stalwart Marty Mets, makes every word a joy to hear. As for the sets, they are spartan but wonderfully executed and designed by Michael Schweikhardt. If the sets are minimal, the lighting and costumes, by Kirk Bookman and Kathleen Geldard, respectively, are not. Perfection.
Hairspray would not be Hairspray without wigs, wigs, wigs. Throughout, we see a panoply of one more outrageous coif after another, provided by Gerard Kelly. (I remember seeing Beach Blanket Babylon years ago in San Francisco, and Kelly's wig designs thereover 80 in totalwere even more hysterical.) The highlight of the hirsute is toward the finale when, so help me, the ladies of the ensemble enter with what looks like topiary on their heads. The audience, which had been roaring all night with laughter, more than appreciated this cherry on the icing.
As for the performances, Mary DiGangi as Tracy, while slow to perk up, is, ultimately, racing on all cylinders as the adorable, singing and dancing leading lady. A veteran of two earlier productions of Hairspray her experience is evident and endearing. Michael Kostroff is superb as Edna. A far better singer, dance and actor than any of the earlier Ednas seen by this reviewer, Kostroff is funny as well, and very, very touching. A bravura, controlled, charming portrayal. A well-known television actor, Mr. Kostroff creates a more likeable, approachable Edna.
The other standout performance is Mia Matthews as Velma Van Tussle. Ms. Matthews is a solipsistic hoot as the viperish, ex-"Miss Baltimore Crabs" and sings in a beautiful alto that made me wonder why this gorgeous woman is not cast in more musicals (Mame? Mamma Mia!?. A Carbonell winner, she is locally known for comedy and drama. Her Velma should open many musical doors for her.
And then we have Altamiece Carolyn Cooper as Motormouth Maybelle. Ms. Cooper's rendition of "I Know Where I've Been" is, in a word, indescribable. It's a true showstopper that raises the roof. Galvanizing comes to mind. The audience reaction was one of sheer ecstasy and appreciation.
Everyone, including the ensemble, does wonderful work. Speaking of the ensemble, you won't be able to take your eyes off Trevor Starr. A compact young man, he has charisma to spare and is a delight to watch.
So, boys and girls, don't think you have seen Hairspray for the last time. Get thee to the Maltz! You'll be glad you did.
Hairspray, through January 28th, 2018, at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. 1001 East Indiantown Rd. Jupiter FL. For tickets and information, visit www.jupitertheatre.org or call 561-713-0673 Left to right: Chelsea Turbin (Amber), Mia Matthews (Velma), Michael Kostroff (Edna) Photo credit: Alicia Donelan