BWW Reviews: Broadway by the Bay's HAIRSPRAY Offers Strong Cast and Uplifting Message

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Refreshingly different from its film counterpart, the original Hairspray musical offers all the highs of the movie set to the thrill of live performance. The changes from stage to screen can both enhance and take away from the charm of a musical. In the case of Broadway by the Bay's production of Hairspray, audiences are treated to those special elements lost in the film. Of course, if you've never seen the movie version of the Tony Award winning show, allow me to introduce you to the high-spirited, catchy musical that will leave a smile on your face, a tune on your mind and a tap to your foot.  

Yes, Hairspray is that uplifting, especially when you add Robyn Tribuzi's inventive choreography and standout vocals from the entire cast. It's unfortunate that the Fox Theatre, a beautiful and historic building that adds to the exciting theatrical atmosphere, has such poor acoustics. The cast triumphs over the sound issues, for the most part, but every once in a while an actor's voice loses to the superb, albeit assertive, orchestra.  

Luckily for audiences, the occasional lack of clarity in spoken lines and singing does not detract from the obvious talent on display. You may not be able to understand the lyrics, but you can definitely understand their meaning. Enthusiastic acting and excellent singing easily testify to this production's worth. Add to that the inspiring story of an overweight girl who finds love and fame and makes a difference in the world, and you get a beautiful experience. 

Vicki Morgan plays quirky and confident Tracy, who stands up for integration during a time when African-Americans were strongly discriminated against. Morgan has played the role twice before and her experience shows. Tracy's best friend, portrayed by Chloe Condon, makes for one of the most enjoyable and memorable characters of the musical. Condon gives the audience a treat with her awkward, exaggerated movements and her use of the shy, but sprightly character's personality.  

Michael Scott Wells has a swagger to his steps that also comes out in his hypnotizing voice. He plays the handsome Link, an aspiring Elvis who has all the girls swooning, especially Tracy. Amber, too, has a crush on Link, and Courtney Hatcher is devilishly sweet as her character attempts to rise on the ladder of fame by putting down those around her. But Amber is nothing compared to her racist mother, Velma Von Tussel, who believes in steering kids in the "white direction." Lisa-Marie Newton embellishes her lines in just the right way to make her character both enjoyable and worth despising. 

Despite their characters' differences - one proud and pompous, the other loving and modest with a lack of self confidence - Velma Von Tussel and Tracy's mother, Edna, have one thing in common: gorgeous costumes. It's a wonder why Edna is so afraid to leave the comfort of her in-home laundry business, Cole Grissom looks so fabulous in Sue Howell's colorful and flattering costumes. The designs match his lively character, too. Grissom has flair as the adorable mother who, with the help of her loving husband and daughter, learns to believe in herself. And in his duet with the character's husband, Grissom gets to show off a taste of his impressive operatic vocals, and believe it, one bite of his enchanting voice is not enough. 

The vocals continue to impress throughout the show with Erica Richardson's soul-stirring rendition of the show stopping number, "I Know Where I've Been." The back up dynamites of "Welcome to the 60's" also deliver short, but very impressive vocals worthy of American Idol and all those other musical reality television shows.

Tribuzi's choreography amplifies the strong impression Broadway by the Bay's cast already leaves. Utilizing props and fun 50s and 60s dance movements, Tribuzi creates a non stop bundle of energy. The one fault lies with Tracy's choreography when she's supposed to stand out enough to get a spot on TV's Corny Collins Show. Although Morgan can clearly dance well, the movements assigned to her at these crucial moments of the show seem more like flailing of the arms than dance, and they most definitely do not impress. It's a small disappointment lost in the overall grandness of the production, though.  

It's about time you said good morning to Tracy's hometown of Baltimore, heard the bells,  and slapped down the money to see this big, blonde and beautiful show. Welcome to the 60's, there's no way you're stopping this beat.

HAIRSPRAY

Through April 22

Broadway By the Bay

http://www.broadwaybythebay.org/

Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

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Harmony Wheeler A theater lover since childhood, Harmony Wheeler has done Marketing and Public Relations work for Sierra Repertory Theatre, Hillhouse Opera Company and other companies. She graduated with high honors from Biola University with her degree in Journalism and an emphasis in Public Relations. In addition to working for the Gallo Center for the Arts, MJM Entertainment Group, Biola University Marketing and Communications, 6th Street PR, and Zimbabwe Gecko Society, Wheeler has written for The Modesto Bee, The Chimes, Static MultiMedia, BullyPulpit.com, TUFW Alumnus Magazine, Christian Book Previews, The Christian Communicator, and Church Libraries Magazine. Her photos appear in The Dominican Dream, a book available for purchase through Biola University's Journalism Department. Her photography and video work can be found at http://photographybyharmonywheeler.shutterfly.com/. To learn more about Harmony Wheeler, or to contact her for work possibilities, visit www.harmonywheeler.com.


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