BWW Review: HAIRSPRAY at Dallas Theater Center

BWW Review: HAIRSPRAY at Dallas Theater Center
Photo by Karen Almond

Who knew, in 1988, when John Waters debuted his film HAIRSPRAY about life in 1962 Baltimore, that his themes of equal rights acceptance would feel just as urgent in the political and social climate 30 long years later? Fortunately, the hit Broadway musical based on the film, has been belted and blasted at audiences loud and clear since it hit the stage in 2003. Now onstage at Winspear Opera House, Dallas Theatre Center's spirited production reminds us not only of how far we come, but how far we've got left to go.

The story centers around teenage Tracy Turnblad, a perky and plump high schooler with a heart of gold and an even shinier pair of rose-colored glasses. Tracy dreams of dancing on the local TV teen dance show and has her eye on teenage dream, Link Larkin. But despite her own challenges around being accepted, Tracy puts her career on the line for her African American peers who, she knows, deserve more respect than they receive with the station's monthly "Negro Day." With her agoraphobic mother and jokester father by her side, there's nothing Tracy can't - and won't - accomplish. For the musical, Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan adapted the script, with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman.

Leading the Dallas production is Broadway alum Michelle Dowdy as Tracy, who reprises the role she played both on Broadway and on the Royal Caribbean cruise line. Having caught Dowdy in the role 12 years ago, it's immediately evident that her Tracy has developed a sharper sense of reality, more effortless comedic timing and nothing less than natural pacing. Still, her endless energy is as welcome and infectious as it was back in 2006. She is the force that obviously bonds this company together.

Dowdy shares the stage with a handful of Dallas theatre icons: David Coffee (Edna Turnblad), Liz Mikel (Motormouth Mabel), Julie Johnson (Prudy Pingleton/Gym Teacher/Prison Guard) and Cara Serber (Velma Von Tussle), It's hard to pick a favorite supporting character, but judging from the opening night audience reaction, any of the above could easily win the title. If there's any imperfection in the casting, it, unfortunately, falls on the shoulders of Joel Ingram's Link Larkin, who doesn't seem to match the heroine's sky-high energy and doesn't appear to be the charming matinee idol he's advertised to be.

Director Joel Ferrell had a large task in a short amount of time (reportedly not fully running the production until the opening performance), but the audience could not have been more welcoming of the outcome. As choreographer, Rickey Tripp often pulled from Jerry Mitchell's Broadway choreography guidebook, but when his own movement took the stage (most noticeably in "Run and Tell That"), his skill truly shined. There were a handful of opening night obstacles, like curtains catching on scenery and cues occasionally jumped, but musical director Vonda K. Bowling and her skilled band didn't miss a beat.

This unique partnership between Dallas Theater Center and AT&T Performing Arts Center may still be new, but if HAIRSPRAY is the roots of the budding relationship, Dallas audiences are in for a treat with whatever else could be up their sleeves.

HAIRSPRAY runs through this Sunday, July 13th, only. Tickets and more information can be found at www.DallasTheatreCenter.org.

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From This Author Kyle Christopher West

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