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Review: HAIRSPRAY at Proctors

Review: HAIRSPRAY at Proctors

Now through December 11th.

As I settled into my seat at Proctors to watch the new touring production of HAIRSPRAY, I must admit I wasn't expecting anything particularly revolutionary. After all, it's a nearly 20-year-old musical set in the 1960s based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name, not to mention the wildly successful movie-musical adaptation from 2007. Essentially, I expected a perfectly fun evening at the theater that I would leave feeling refreshed and not much more. Instead, I was met with a production that embodies the show's themes of love and solidarity so effectively that I'm convinced this show is perhaps even more timely now than it was when it was conceived two decades ago.

HAIRSPRAY follows Tracy Turnblad (Niki Metcalf), a young plus-sized girl living in Baltimore, as she becomes something of a local celebrity overnight after booking a gig as a dancer on The Corny Collins Show. Using her newfound platform (and confidence), she campaigns to fully integrate the show by working alongside the show's black performers who are relegated to one episode per month. This, of course, upsets the show's producer/stage-mom-in-chief, Velma Von Tussle (Addison Garner), who wages an all-out war on Tracy and her mission, which at one point culminates in her calling the police to break up a peaceful protest, a scene that felt unfortunately too timely.

Hairspray (Non-Equity)This show is one that thrives in its largest moments and thankfully there are plenty. The choreography is excellently done by Robbie Roby and the cast executes it incredibly well, along with brilliantly sung vocals. "I Know Where I've Been," the late act two number bravely helmed by Sandie Lee's Motormouth Maybelle is a particular musical highlight. "Welcome to the '60s," one of the most fun numbers in the first act, has Tracy taking her mother Edna, here brilliantly portrayed by Greg Kalafatas, out on the town, complete with a couple of 60-second costume changes including a new wig and new shoes. Perhaps my favorite number of the evening, however, was "(You're) Timeless to Me," the duet between Edna and her husband Wilbur (Ralph Prentice Daniel). The two together are so unbelievably charming and well-cast that this number, which I've always found to be a bit of a slog, shines instead.

Emery Henderson is unbelievably good as Tracy's friend Penny, her perfectly awkward physical acting creating a wonderful contrast to Charlie Bryant III, who is excellent as the suave Seaweed J. Stubbs. Ryahn Evers is just the right amount of bratty as Velma's daughter Amber, and her voice is clear as a bell. Additionally, Emmanuelle Zeesman stole the scene every time she appeared at Penny's neurotic mother Prudy.

There are a few things about this production that make it feel a bit bogged down, however, and almost all of them can be traced back to the production as a whole, not of the cast. Patrick W. Lord's video design sometimes worked well to set the scene and complimented David Rockwell's somewhat minimal yet effective set design, but other times felt excessive, namely the few times dancing cartoon silhouettes were projected around the action, especially as they looked a bit stilted in their movements. It made me wonder why we didn't just include dancers onstage in the first place. The sound mixing also left something to be desired, as the orchestra was balanced in a way that made it sound somewhat tinny, rather than the warm sound I'm accustomed to with a live band. Similarly, the piped-in sounds of tap shoes during one bit of choreography felt like a lazy choice. The script also has its moments that feel dated, as any 20-year-old show will, but certain jokes that are perhaps a little unsavory by today's standards could have been handled with a bit more grace (one joke about "special ed" included a pretty offensive vocal affect that I certainly could have done without).

Overall, though, Hairspray is an absolute blast of a show that will have you dancing in your seat and perhaps leave you feeling a little more hopeful about the possibility for change when we stand in tandem with and actively listen to the voices of those who are working towards progress. It's a show that reminds us we're a lot more similar than we are different.

HAIRSPRAY runs in Schenectady at Proctors through Sunday, December 11, 2022. Tickets and more information may be found at www.proctors.org.

Updated December 9th: A previous version of this article stated that the production used pre-recorded tracks. This was incorrect and a live band provides the music for the show.



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From This Author - Noah Casner

Noah Casner is an actor, singer, and theatre educator currently living in Upstate New York. A lifelong lover of theatre, Noah has seen over two hundred shows on Broadway and Off-Broadway,  as ... (read more about this author)


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