BWW Reviews: Dutch Apple's HAIRSPRAY Will Dance Into Your Hearts
Movies become Broadway musicals. Musicals become movies. But how often do you see the phenomenon of a non-musical cult movie becoming a musical so popular that it spawns a popular hit musical movie?
From John Waters to John Travolta, HAIRSPRAY has captivated audiences with its wit, its humor, and its dead-on attack on Baltimore's genteel public 1960's racism. For those of us raised around Baltimore or Philadelphia in that period, the recollections of local teen dance shows are an added bonus, not just a plot point - that one popular show started out as "Philadelphia Bandstand," folks, not on national television. A winner of 8 out of its 13 Tony nominations, HAIRSPRAY is just about as beloved as a musical gets.
HAIRSPRAY is also onstage at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre in a spirited production directed and choreographed by Amy McCleary that's loud, sassy, and as full of fun as a show gets. That it also tackles segregation and class consciousness in the 1960's, that it has one of the strongest female leads in musical theatre -- in fact, an entire cast of strong women, from the lead to her mother to a television executive and a DJ, are easy to miss in the midst of the hilarity. It's a show with a conscience as well as a heart, and a show with one of the peppiest, most fun scores around.
Megan Power is a brassy, bold Tracy Turnblad, with her head and her top notes both as high as her hairdo. Her Tracy is as full of energy and of dance moves as her hairdo is full. Adam Clough's Corny Collins, the DJ turned local television dance show emcee, is one of the best this writer has seen recently, and his costumes, designed by John P. White, are gloriously and defiantly loud and eye-straining. His "The Nicest Kids in Town" is the first of many fine moments on stage.
Chuck Caruso's Edna Turnblad - Edna is always played by a male, in honor of the star of the original movie, Divine - is a delightful portrayal of the mother whose heart is as oversized as the rest of her, and who manages to keep that heart in the right place all the time - a sharp contrast to Velma Von Tussle (Erin Fish), the fiendish TV producer. Along with her devoted husband, Wilbur (veteran local performer Jim Johnson, in a wonderful turn on stage), she supports Tracy through her exploits, from becoming a dance star to integrating local television. Caruso and Johnson have one of the show's finest moments, the duet of "You're Timeless to Me" in the second act. Always a great song, these two make it a show-stopper without milking it.
But the real second lead in many ways is DJ Motormouth Maybelle, played by Dutch Apple veteran Debra Thais Evans. Motormouth has both the Act One close, "Big, Blonde, and Beautiful," and the eleven o'clock number, "I Know Where I've Been," and anyone who saw her Bloody Mary in SOUTH PACIFIC knows walking into this production that she can knock a huge tune out of any ballpark, anywhere. She does it again here - as well she should, since this is her sixth adventure with the rabble-rousing DJ, including playing her on the national tour.
Evans says of Motorouth, "She's amazing. I love her spirit, her determination not just to not let herself quit, but not to let those kids quit. She won't let them stop." She adds, "It's an amazing show, it's inspiring, and it's so much fun. I've worked with our Link Larkin (Chris Kane) before - he and I did the show in Maine."
John P. White's costumes are a marvelous display of 1960's colors and prints that will cause eye-blinking for anyone who doesn't remember those looks and a fair number of those who do, as the argyle and plaid 1950's look gives way to swirls, paisleys, and op art fabrics. Tracy's and Edna's mother-daughter outfits are almost blindingly dazzling. Set designer Robert Andrew Kovach gives the production a delightful stylized look of an urban Baltimore neighborhood near Patterson Park, from rowhomes to stores. McCleary's choreography has neat, clean lines to it, but it's more complex than it looks, especially in the high school ensemble's Madison (which, despite the claims in the show, probably wasn't invented in Baltimore).
This is a show full of dancing, singing, and truth-telling that will twist and shout its way from 1960's Baltimore into your heart. If you're a fan of the show already, you'll find the production satisfying. If you don't know the show yet, prepare to become a fan within moments of Tracy Turnblad's welcoming "Good Morning, Baltimore".
At Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre through September 20. For tickets and information, call 717-898-1900 or visit DutchApple.com.