BWW Review: HAIRSPRAY the Cupcake Way!
(Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Elizabeth McCullough, who was listed in Cupcake's program under "SCENIC DESIGN", as the Scenic Designer. The set designer is actually Benjamin Warren.)
Like many in the theatrical community, I've had a perpetual hangover since November 8th. Not a hangover in the sense that Donald Trump's victory in the Electoral College brought me great happiness to the point of intoxication, but rather a hangover in the sense that I now literally have to drink myself to sleep at night. As a result, I usually wake up around noon next to empty bottles and old copies of BackStage West with a pounding headache that lasts me throughout the day. In fact, the only thing that keeps me going is knowing that we're on the eve of NBC's much anticipated HAIRSPRAY LIVE!, which will be broadcast on December 7th. So, when I heard that the North Hollywood Arts District's newest theatre, Cupcake Studios, was staging an intimate production of HAIRSPRAY, I put down the Jägermeister, slipped on my favorite blazer, and headed over to check it out.
HAIRSPRAY has always been one of my guilty pleasures. On the surface, it's a really fun musical, with catchy numbers that beg you to jump out of your seat and dance along, but at its core it tears at the fine fabric that holds together America's social norms. HAIRSPRAY tells the story of how marginalized groups in our country are able to rise up by banding together and forming coalitions with each other. HAIRSPRAY is astoundingly inspirational, the perfect post-election hangover cure, and Cupcake Theater's production of it did the show justice.
HAIRSPRAY is set in the early 1960s and follows the fat, short, and stocky Tracy Turnblad (played by the gorgeous Brittany Thornton), who dreams of being a professional singer and dancer on the Corny Collins Show, and winning the title "Miss Baltimore." Her dreams are, at first, mocked by everyone because she doesn't fit the traditional build of a Corny Collins Show dancer, and certainly doesn't live in the body of a beauty pageant winner. She receives emotional support from her geeky and awkward friend, Penny (played by the extremely talented Claire Adams), her morbidly obese mother, Edna (played by the hilarious Teddy Margas), her bat-shit insane father (played by the sidesplitting David Gallic), and most notably, the segregated and marginalized African-American singers and dancers who are featured on the show, a mere once a month, on "negro day." While Tracy, her awkward friend, weird family, and African-American pals might be marginalized minorities when standing by themselves, they find when they band together as allies their collation quickly proves to be far stronger than the social norms of 1960's America, and together they force a social change deep in society's consciousness.
ENTER CUPCAKE THEATER
Cupcake Theater's production of this timely musical proved thoroughly enjoyable. Cupcake Studios just moved into their new North Hollywood space a few months ago. The organization, led by Artistic Director Michael Pettenato (who prior to moving back to Los Angeles owned Cloud 9 Cupcakes in Atlanta and was featured on Food Network's CUPCAKE WARS), specializes in providing Broadway caliber musical theatre to North Hollywood, at affordable prices. Pettenato's organization lived up to their mission statement with this production.
HOW WAS CUPCAKE'S RENDITION?
The entire cast was amazing! Brittany Thornton strongly led the production, capturing the innocent, optimistic, and pleasantly plump essence of Tracy Turnblad. Teddy Margas and David Gallic were both absolutely hilarious in their roles as Edna and Wilbur Turnblad. No offense to John Travolta and Christopher Walken, but I strongly prefer Margas and Gallic as Tracy's parents. Their surprisingly non-awkward duet, "You're Timeless to Me", was memorable to say the least.
Claire Adams (Penny) and Devin J. Hall (Seaweed) were both standouts and deserve special mentions. Adams' interpretation of the awkward Penny Pingleton bore a striking resemblance to the character Penelope Taynt, Amanda Bynes' number one fan and crazy stalker, from THE AMANDA SHOW back in the 90s. Adams was able to embrace the utter weirdness of her character very believably. According to his bio, Devin Hall made his Los Angeles debut with this show. Hall is the definition of a triple threat, and certainly one to keep an eye on; his dancing particularly stood out as extraordinary.
Director and Choreographer Wendy Rosoff captured the magical spirit of this infectiously fun musical. Her choreography remained true to HAIRSPRAY's American Bandstand style, while also not merely serving a carbon copy of the dancing in the 2007 film. Her designers did an excellent job setting the scene. Benjamin Warren's (Scenic Designer) and Elizabeth McCullough's (Scenic Painter) sets were elaborate and creative, especially considering the intimate space. The wigs, provided by Byron Batista, were just plain cool.
The "nicest band in town", led by conductor, pianist, and Music Director Nick Petrillo, was remarkably well balanced, toned, and tuned. Petrillo's four-man band did a great job serving the needs of the production, without bringing too much attention to themselves and detracting from the actors on stage. They certainly weren't the discordant "garage band" style of musicians often heard at other 99-seat venues in Los Angeles.
WHO SHOULD SEE IT?
I highly recommend Cupcake Theater's rendition of HAIRSPRAY to anybody who loves colorful, big, and bold Broadway style musicals. It's a fun escape for an evening, and layered with complexities that make it appropriate for all ages. Take the whole family, from the little ones to grandma.
There is some sexual innuendo in the lyrics (John Watters wrote and directed the original HAIRSPRAY, so it shouldn't come as a huge surprise), but the innuendo is so subtle that any children who aren't ready for it simply won't pick it up (minus maybe the trench-coat wearing flasher who briefly appears in "Good Morning Baltimore").
If you do decide to see the show, please don't be annoying and yell incoherent things to the cast throughout the show (I'm looking at you lady who was sitting house right, 3rd row). I'm not sure if this woman was confused and thought she was seeing ROCKY HORROR, or if she was merely drunk, but it goes without saying when you see a live performance keep your quips to yourself. Not the production's fault; just a reminder to everyone to be a good audience members.
Book By: Mark O'Donnell & Thomas Meehan
Music By: Marc Shaiman
Directed By: Wendy Rosoff |Produced By: Michael Pettenato
Music Director: Nick Petrillo
When: November 11 - December 17, 2016
Fridays @ 8pm; Saturdays @ 2pm/8pm
Tickets: Prices Vary - PURCHASE HERE
(Seating at the Cupcake is first come/first served, so I highly recommend arriving at least 45 minutes before the show's start time to find parking and get good seats. Heed this warning.)
Where: Cupcake Studios-Cupcake Theater, 11020 Magnolia Blvd, Los Angeles CA 91601.
(Production Photo Credits: Sabrina Weisz - Sabrina Photography)