Review - Hairspray: Arrangement In Black And White
Castro's invading, integration is the new frontier and you have to be much larger than a size 6 to be considered plus-size. Welcome to the '60s and welcome to Paper Mill's big, bubbly and thoroughly loveable production of Hairspray.
I hesitate to call this a "new" production because the Millburn edition of this sparkling adaptation of filmmaker John Waters' cult favorite utilizes the kinetically charged original Broadway staging of director Jack O'Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell (re-created by Matt Lenz and Michele Lynch), along with a somewhat condensed version of David Rockwell's fluid, cartoon set and William Ivey Long's eye-popping costumes, making me nostalgic for 2002.
Centered around The Corny Collins Show, a rock 'n' roll dance program that would send Baltimore teens rushing to their television sets after school nearly fifty years ago, Hairspray features the spunky and energetic Christine Danelson as Tracy Turnblad, a large-size girl with a major crush on the show's featured singer, Link Larkin (dreamboaty Constantine Rousouli) and an appreciation for the moves she sees on the show's once-a-month "Negro Day."
Working off of Waters' off-beat screenplay, bookwriters Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan approach Tracy's triple quest to win Link's heart, combat the size-ism she faces as she auditions for a spot on the program and to racially integrate The Corny Collins Show, with an arch sense of humor, skewering any traces of sentimentality. Marc Shaiman's melodies are among the catchiest Broadway has heard this century and, with Harold Wheeler's period orchestrations, effectively imitate the 45 rpm sounds of early 60s pop rock, inner city funk, gospel, lounge music and Motown. But the catch is that the lyrics he penned with Scott Wittman, with its references to dancing rats on the street, going all the way, and tasting chocolate and never going back, would never have made it past the censors to the airwaves, as they sardonically challenge the cleanliness of pre-British Invasion American pop culture.
Christopher Sieber, who seems to be making a very smooth transition from comical juvenile to character actor, is probably the best singer to don the fat suit to play the traditionally cross-dressed role of Tracy's mom, Edna; at one point seeming to be belting an applause-grabbing money note for as long as he darn well pleases. But there's no camp involved as he shows how Edna's amazement and pride at her daughter's accomplishments help convince her that she herself is a beautiful and stylish woman. With the great Broadway song and dance man Lee Roy Reams playing Tracy's positive-thinking dad, the role is certainly danced better than usual, and the pair make their vaudevillian showstopper, "Timeless To Me," a memorable knockout, with Reams hoofing effortlessly across the stage and Sieber throwing in a few high kicks and ballet moves.
Hairspray is a show with a lot of high-profile featured roles and Paper Mill's company is loaded with terrific performances. Alex Ellis is adorably dorky as Tracy's best friend, Penny, who grows into a confident checkerboard chick when she gets involved with Seaweed (slick-moving Caliaf St. Aubyn), the son of Motormouth Maybelle (a rousing, Motown and gospel singing, NaTasha Yvette Williams), host of "Negro Day." Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone, as the spoiled meanie, Amber Von Tussle and Donna English, as her madly ambitious mother, add greatly to the fun, as do the Shirelles-like trio of Iris Burruss, Nicole Powell and Rashidra Scott, who bring down the house with their all-too-brief stage time.
Photos by Kevin Sprague: Top: Christine Danelson and Constantine Rousouli; Center: Shelese Franklin, Lee Roy Ream, Christopher Sieber, and Caliaf St. Aubyn; Bottom: Nicole Powell, Iris Burruss and Rashidra Scott.