BWW Review: Blockbuster Broadway Musical HAIRSPRAY Blasts 1962 onto the Norris Theatre Stage
Even if you have seen many productions of the totally entertaining Broadway musical-comedy HAIRSPRAY, do not miss the larger-than-life production, with its infectious music, show?stopping dance numbers and uplifting story, now at the Norris Theatre on the Palos Verdes Peninsula through May 12. With a talented cast of 28 local triple-threat performers, directed to perfection by Kari Hayter with some of the most demanding and athletic constant choreography by Christopher M. Albrecht, producer Chris Gilbert is to congratulated for bringing one of the best total packages to the stage!
Composer/lyricist Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman won the Tony Award for Best Original Score and a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album by incorporating '60s style dance music and rhythm and blues. Popular songs from HAIRSPRAY include "You Can't Stop the Beat," "I Know Where I've Been," "I Can Hear the Bells," "Good Morning Baltimore," "It Takes Two," and "Welcome to the 60s," among others, which are rocked by a 14-piece orchestra under the direction of Taylor Stephenson.
Based on John Water's cult classic film, with a book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, HAIRSPRAY won eight Tony® Awards during its Broadway run with over 2,500 performances from August 2002 to January 2009. After also winning awards in London's West End, the family-friendly musical's international tour brought it fame and a frenetic following worldwide, as has the hugely successful major motion picture in 2007 starring John Travolta and Zac Efron, and subsequent live TV broadcast starring Jennifer Hudson presented by NBC in 2016.
Set in 1962 Baltimore when the world believed in Camelot thanks to President Kennedy and his fabulously glamorous wife Jacqueline, HAIRSPRAY tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair in a time when thin and petite were seen as the norm, especially the way in which teens were presented on the popular "Corny Collins Show" which was no doubt modeled after "American Bandstand." A dedicated fan of the show, when one of the dancers announces the need for a 9-month leave of absence, Tracy's big dream, and an even bigger heart, leads her to audition to dance on the show.
When Tracy finally wins a spot on the dance show, she's transformed from outsider to an irrepressible teen celebrity always willing to speak her mind. In balancing her newfound power with her desire for justice, Tracy fights to dethrone the reigning Miss Teen Hairspray, Amber von Tussle, and integrate a television network in the process.
The never-ending battle to attain what everyone else tells you is an impossible dream is what inspires audiences to seek out HAIRSPRAY wherever it is performed. But it takes an especially talented cast to carry off the demanding roles, choreography and score. And trust me, the one at the Norris Theatre deserves kudos as one of the best I have ever seen, even though some of the now politically incorrect dialogue got my hair standing on end. But this was 1962 when the civil rights movement was yet to be born, so please recognize that time frame and how truthful the examination of prejudice is in the production.
Outstanding performers of note in this Broadway-quality production, staged on a multi-level set designed by Matt Scarpino, Go Button Production, begin with Luzma Ortiz as the always energetic and positive Tracy Turnblad. This musical could never succeed without a strong presence in this role, and Ortiz fits the bill to a tee, her never-ending energy a wonder to behold.
Roland Rusinek portrays Tracy's mother Edna Turnblad, perfectly crossdressing, thanks to scene-stealing costumes by Bradley Lock, but letting us in on the well-known "secret" every time his baritone belt sneaks in to emphasize the power behind Tracy's throne. Their first big number, "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now" speaks to the moment when every daughter finally speaks up to greet the world on her own two feet, and these two, along with the other two mother-daughter teams, nailed it to comical perfection.
Dancers on the "Corny Collins Show" include the Sandra Dee-Tab Hunter combo known as self-centered blonde bombshell Amber Von Tussle portrayed by Angela Griswold as a girl who just thinks she deserves every appearance-based award in the world, and her handsome, swoon-worthy boyfriend Link Larkin, portrayed to 60s heartthrob perfection by Neil Starkenberg. Of course the audience falls in love with him and can "Hear the Bells" just as much as Tracy does when her first real crush realizes it's the heart inside that matters more than pursuing a girl who thinks it's her looks that matter the most. Janna Cardia chews the scenery as Amber's mother Velma Von Tussle every time her overbearing presence takes the stage as she pushes Amber to gain the recognize she received as "Miss Baltimore Crabs." But it's very apparent exactly how Velma worked her way to the top via the casting couch.
The topic of racial segregation in 1962, just prior to the civil rights movement, is brought to light when Tracy and her BFF Penny (Lacey Beegun) meet and practice dancing with Seaweed Stubbs (Mitchell Johnson, a real treat every time his feet fly across the stage) and his group of ultra-talented African- American friends.
But it is Dominique Kent as Motormouth Maybelle, the host of the segregated, monthly "Negro Day" episodes on the dance program, who raises the roof to the stars with her glorious full-throated belt during "Big, Blonde & Beautiful" to end Act 1.
Kudos to each and every cast and crew member for their outstanding contributions to this Broadway quality HAIRSPRAY production, with performances running from April 26-May 12 on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., plus 2 p.m. on Saturdays May 4 and 11.
Ticket prices are $30-$80. For more information or to purchase tickets, call the box office at (310) 544-0403 or go to palosverdesperformingarts.com. The Norris Theatre is located at 27570 Norris Center Drive in Rolling Hills Estates.
Photo credit: Ed Krieger