Review: HAIRSPRAY at Dolby Theatre

The show is a joyous reminder of how good it is to be alive

By: May. 05, 2023
Review: HAIRSPRAY at Dolby Theatre

Aerosol is in the air as Tracy Turnblad, Penny Pingleton, and the teens of Baltimore bring politics and pizzazz to Hollywood with a stunning production of one of the best and beloved musicals of all time.

When the "Pope of Trash," John Waters, legendary director of B-movies like "Polyester" and "Pink Flamingos," went mainstream in 1988 with the comedy "Hairspray," it was to mixed results. It did well for a film destined to become a cult classic, but like happened so often back then, it found a significantly bigger audience on home video. That (eventually) led to it being adapted into a 2002 Broadway musical, winning eight Tonys (out of 13 nominations), including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Performance by both a Leading Actor and Leading Actress in a Musical. That, in turn, was followed by an acclaimed and successful 2007 film adaptation of the musical and has become a theater staple since with classic songs like "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now," "Good Morning, Baltimore," and "You Can't Stop the Beat."

Review: HAIRSPRAY at Dolby Theatre
Niki Metcalf and Company

The show set in 1962 Baltimore focuses on pleasantly plump Tracy Turnblad (Niki Metcalf), an irrepressibly hopeful teenager intending to score a spot on the local dance program "The Corny Collins Show" (the local version of "American Bandstand"). When one of the dancers finds herself in the family way, Tracy sees her chance to both land a gig on TV and also the heart of resident heartthrob, Link Larkin (Nick Cortazzo). Along the way, she and her timid friend Penny Pingleton (Emery Henderson) shake up Baltimore, raising a fight against racial segregation, finding themselves, and helping others embrace their uniqueness.

While race is at the forefront of the show, it also takes on another issue, one that wasn't an issue when the film first debuted. Tracy's mother, Edna, here played by Andrew Levitt (aka Nina West from "RuPaul's Drag Race"), has always been played by a man in drag, including such notables as Divine, Harvey Fierstein, Michael McKean, and Bruce Vilanch. With drag in the crosshairs across the country, the show is taking a stand without even taking a stand. Simply by existing, it is political, just when it needs to be.

Review: HAIRSPRAY at Dolby Theatre
Addison Garner

Meanwhile, Tracy, Penny, and Amber Von Tussle (Ryahn Evers), a dance show princess who will do anything to vanquish Tracy from the show, are all being controlled by their mothers with Amber being groomed to be a supercilious Karen, mousy Penny to be a Good Girl, and Tracy to quash her dreams and accept her lot in a life of drudgery. As they rebel against the boxes their mothers are trying to put them in, they're also making strides for all women, even if they fail.

Review: HAIRSPRAY at Dolby Theatre
Andrew Levitt aka Nina West
and Ralph Prentice Daniel

It's a thrilling, unsinkably upbeat show, gleefully over the top, with colorful characters, costumes, and sets. There's so much energy, so much enthusiasm you can't help but be swept up in it. Director Matt Lenz, choreographer Robbie Roby, and music supervisor Keith Thompson have created such a thing of joy, the action moving along at a breakneck pace but never feeling rushed. Metcalf brings perfect spunk-with-an-edge to Tracy, who believes in both herself and the ability of people to change. Ralph Prentice Daniel is sweetly crush worthy as her father, Wilbur Turnblad; Billy Dawson displays an effortless sexiness as Corny Collins (think a non-neutered Ryan Seacrest); and Addison Garner as Velma Von Tussle, Amber's ambitious and small-minded mother, are standouts among a solid gold cast.

The costumes by William Ivey Long and the hair and wigs by Paul Huntley perfectly evoke the vibrant '60s. The set design by David Rockwell - whether dance-show set, after-school detention, a record store, a joke shop, or Tracy's downtrodden apartment - is flamboyant and creative. The humor, with book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, is both bawdy and gentle, the songs joyous, the spirit infectious. You can't not fall in love with it. You won't want the beat to stop because it reminds you how happy it is to be alive.

HAIRSPRAY is performed at the Dolby Theatre, 6801 Hollywood Boulevard, through May 23. Tickets are available at, by phone at (800) 982-2787, or at the box office.

All photos courtesy Jeremy Daniel


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From This Author - Harker Jones

Harker Jones has worked in publishing as a writer, editor, and critic for 15 years. He was managing editor of Out magazine for seven years and has written two novels (including the #1 Amazon... (read more about this author)


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