BWW Reviews: HAIRSPRAY Concert with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra - One for the Ages
When I first read that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra would be presenting a concert version of the hit Tony-winning musical based in Baltimore I was shocked and excited at the same time. I have been critical in the past for the BSO limiting its Broadway-style concerts to Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Lowe. But then last season came the incredible LES MISERABLES concert which I picked as the leading Special Event of the 2012 theater season.
Then I read that HAIRSPRAY author John Waters was going to act as narrator. And then I read the BSO would be bringing in Broadway performers, including Tony-winner Beth Leveal and Marissa Perry and Paul Vogt from the Broadway cast of HAIRSPRAY. How about adding Micky Dolenz, the famed member of the hit group, The MONKEES, who had experience with the show in London and I wondered how much is this going to cost?
Other stand-out artists included the talented Marcus Terel as Seaweed (who I predict will become a star), Nick Adams in the role of Link Larkin (who actually had a huge following of fans who stayed to meet him after the show), the amazing NaTasha Yvette Williams as Motormouth Mabelle, the trio of Natalie Renee, Nikki Stephenson, and Melissa vanPelt as the "Dynamites", actor Bret Shuford (Corny Collins), Julie Kavanagh as Penny Pingleton, Rhiannon Hansen as Amber von Tussle , and playing "Little Inez", Marika Washington, a talented tenth grader from the Baltimore School for the Arts who has a huge future ahead of her.
Add to this impressive cast, a large group of dancers and singers from the Baltimore School for the Arts under the tutelage of Chad Zodrow.
This was co-production with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and BSO Pops Conductor Jack Everly conducted and did the wonderful orchestrations.
Director David Levy and Choreographer Jennifer Ladner both have done a miraculous job of pulling this all together. There were also fabulous costumes by Clare Henkel and moving lighting by Donald Thomas.
Normally, in a Broadway orchestra pit, you'll be inclined to hear about 15 pieces. But, here, backing up this incredible cast was the powerful and marvelous 48 piece Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
One knew it would be a boisterous crowd when the audience gave Waters a tumultuous ovation when he first entered the stage and showed his wry smile. The ovations came on coming all night long until the confetti came down from the ceiling during the curtain call. Conductor Everly pointed out surprise guests in the audience,composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.
During a media-planned rehearsal, I was fortunate to meet many of the performers.
I was honored to meet the talented Beth Leveal who I recall with reverence her performances in the Broadway productions of DROWSY CHAPERONE and CRAZY FOR YOU. I also learned that she took over the leading role of Donna in MAMMA MIA! from Carolee Carmello. I was curious who she got involved with this production and she revealed she has known the Director, David Levy for over thirty years. She went directly from her Broadway role in ELF to rehearse in Indianapolis. This was the first time she performed in Baltimore. She mentioned she did though sing a commercial for the Maryland Lottery. What a performer.
Conductor Jack Everly thanked BSO Artistic Director for being immensely helpful in bring HAIRSPRAY to Baltimore. He mentioned that John Waters was initially questioning the relevance of doing the show in this manner and Everly had no trouble convincing Waters the show was a moment of history and was so inspiring and unique.
Ex-Monkee Mickey Dolenz was so pleased to return to Baltimore (his daughter went received a Master's Degree from Johns Hopkins) and talked about his love doing the HAIRSPRAY in London where it was revered. Dolenz said the show "...has great songs and the UK is very familiar with everything associated with America." He also recalled being present for the premiere of the non-musical film of HAIRSRAY.
Marika Washington was thrilled to be selected to play "Little Inez". She commented, "This is surreal". She began rehearsing in November four times a week and week-ends and was excited and nervous. She was expecting many family members to attend. The 10th grader hopes to attend NYU's Tisch School for the Arts upon graduation.
A nice addition to the evening was a pre-show dance lesson held in the lobby from former HAIRSPRAY Dynamite and Dance Captain of the Broadway show, CJay Philip who now lives in Baltimore. Her new dance company Dance & Bmore gave 60's dance lessons to a dozen random but enthusiastic patrons (including my wife Lisa). As the "new dancers" performed to the music of the show, happy on lookers were cheering their every move. What a great appetizer for the evening's entertainment. For more information, visit www.danceandbmore.com.
After seeing this incredible production, I was curious to compare it with New York's City Center Encores' series which brings back former Broadway shows in a similar setting with the orchestra in the rear on stage and some actors actually reading scripts and performing. I saw a fabulous production of FIORELLO last week. I can see this tradition of semi-Broadway productions with little or no sets becoming a boom to symphony orchestras around the country and I am confident this amazing production of HAIRSPRAY will be performed again.
Photo credits: Charles Shubow
Jack Levy and Paul C. Vogt