BWW Review: You Can't Stop the Beat at Golden West College's HAIRSPRAY
From the Jackie Kennedy inspired dresses to the beehive hairdos, HAIRSPRAY was truly a trip back in time to the 1960's at Golden West College this past weekend. On the last day of performances for their spring musical, Golden West's Mainstage Theater was packed with a full-house of musical-loving theater goers. With music and lyrics by March Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and a book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, the Tony Award winning Broadway musical shined a spotlight on social issues, following dreams, and an ever-changing world open to new opportunities. Directed and choreographed by Martie Ramm, the company of HAIRSPRAY at Golden West College brought that spotlight back.
With a lively company led by the show's star Shakiba Shadman as Tracy Turnblad, the energy of a new world breaking away from the 1950's and into the 60's, was evident in every performance of every song. Opening with a vibrant "Good morning, Baltimore," Shadman brought excitement and hope to the show, even at times when it felt like the world was against her. Exuding a special kind of confidence, Shadman portrayed Tracy, through her voice and her shining personality, as one whose spirit could not be contained.
Brigham Hughes, who gave a stellar performance as the over-the-top TV personality Corny Collins, brought the energy level up in the room as he, along with the mischievous Amber von Tussle (Taylor Windle) and teen heartthrob Link Larkin (Alex Jean) gave the crowd a delightfully exciting version of "Nicest Kids in Town." Backed by an amazing set designed by Tim Mueller, the TV studio made the theater audience feel as though we were watching a live taping of the Corny Collins show.
Not long after telling Tracy she can't audition for the show, Tracy's mother, Edna, played by Raymond Zachary, quickly became a crowd favorite. With the audience laughing at almost every line, Zachary portrayed a hilarious yet lovable version of Edna, following her daughter through all the ups and downs of growing up in a changing world. Another mother then proved to be a superb performer as Dayna Sauble delievered a remarkable performance of "Miss Baltimore Crabs" as Velma von Tussle. Just as Windle did with her impressive portrayal of Amber, Sauble portrayed the annoying, selfish TV mom in all the right ways. Shadman, Zachary, Windle, and Sauble conveyed a mother-daughter relationship so prevalent it easy to see that nobody was going to come between them and the success of their daughters in the show.
Following Tracy's debut on the Corny Collins show, Link Larkin then has a moment in the spotlight to sing to her. Alex Jean took this moment and made "It Takes Two" a truly enjoyable musical number. Though the audience knows Link is playing this number to the camera for the taping of the show, Jean somehow made this number sincere as his character sang to Tracy. Shadman and Jean's onstage chemistry, from their smiles at each other to their duets, had the audience quickly cheering the couple on, as several "Aw's" and laughs were heard from the crowd as they shared a kiss at the end of the number.
Nathaniel Woodson gave a flawless performance as Seaweed J. Stubbs - from the detention room showing Tracy his dance moves, to the Corny Collins show, Woodson proved his dance moves unmatched by anyone else in the company. In a riveting performance of "Run and Tell That," Woodson seemed to bring the audience to the edge of their seats with the explosion of dancing and singing throughout the number. Seaweed's sister, Little Inez, played by crowd-favorite Ruby Elizabeth Denmion, then stole the spotlight with her soulful and powerful verse, leaving the audience cheering after her solo.
In the timeless number, "You're Timeless To Me," John K. Wilson (Wilbur Turnblad) and Raymond Zachary (Edna) performed a simple yet enthralling duet, exemplifying the meaning of true love and companionship despite the world that's changing around them. The audience was deeply invested in this number, entertained by the lyrical jokes and the actors' chemistry on stage Wilson and Zachary were greeted with laughs and applause when they came back to dance and perform one final verse of the love song.
Sweeping the hilariously oblivious Penny Pingleton, played by Kyra Olschewske, off her feet, Seaweed then sings alongside Penny in "Without Love," proving that the pairing of the two performers vocally and visually were quite perfect - the love and joy the two brought each other was easily seen. Shadman and Jean's inseparability as Tracy and Link was also highlighted in this number to show that even if separated by a jail cell, their love and understanding for each other knew no boundaries.
The TV Network DJ of the Corny Collins show, Motormouth Maybelle, played by Brenda Oen, presented the audience with an incredibly moving and flawless rendition of "I Know Where I've Been." With the theater silent, nothing but Oen's voice filled the room and took up space during that number. Hitting every note and simultaneously performing the meaning behind every word, the audience gave Oen a standing ovation after her call to not give up fighting for what she believes is right.
Every number was backed by the performance of an incredible band, led by Musical Director and Conductor Rick Heckman, bringing elements 1960's rock, blues, and dance vibe to life at Golden West College. By the time the show reached its final number, the audience knew just by the first few notes of "You Can't Stop the Beat," that the show was about to have an excitingly great end. Shadman's singing sent all the love, life, and infectious optimism that Tracy had been carrying with her throughout the entire show out into the audience through this song. Joined by Jean, Woodson, and Olschewske, the four friends nailed the dancing and singing on the wildly fast-paced song, while never losing their excitement. Both Zachary and Oen's return to the stage in this final number were greeted with loud applause, as Edna and Motormouth Maybelle came to join their kids on stage - a wildly entertaining and well done number, this cast of HAIRSPRAY closed off their show in a bright and dazzling way. At curtain call, the cast was met with a standing ovation, and following the applause, the entire company broke out into one last of verse of "You Can't Stop the Beat," prompting the audience's applause to turn into a clap, in time with the music. People were dancing and singing from their seats. Golden West College's production of HAIRSPRAY lifted the spirits of many in the audience, and I noticed while walking out of the theater, not a single face without a smile.