Review: HAIRSPRAY is a Joyous Welcome to the '60s at the MARCUS CENTER

Just try to wipe the smile off your face

By: Feb. 09, 2023
Review: HAIRSPRAY is a Joyous Welcome to the '60s at the MARCUS CENTER
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The tour of Hairspray is pure joy, lighting up Milwaukee's Marcus Center through February 12th with exuberant dancing, glorious voices, and a bright, bubbly outlook that's just what this Wisconsin winter needs.

Directed by Matt Lenz, Hairspray tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a 16 year-old in 1960s Baltimore with dreams as big as her hair. Dream number one is to be a dancing superstar on local TV's Corny Collins Show. Dream number two is to fight racial segregation and change the world. She does it all with the support of loving parents, devoted friends, a new flame, and the utmost positivity and spunk.

Playing Tracy Turnblad is Niki Metcalf, who has dreamed of playing the role since she first saw the original Broadway production. Metcalf's dream-come-true is a dream for audiences too. She's fantastic and funny, sweet-voiced and sure-footed, nailing every note and dance move with total confidence and pizazz.

At Tracy's side are her mother Edna (Andrew Levitt), father Wilbur (Ralph Prentice Daniel), and best friend Penny (Emery Henderson). Fans of RuPaul's Drag Race will know Levitt as drag queen Nina West, and Levitt brings all that dynamite drag energy to the part of Edna Turnblad. From frumpy house mother to fabulously befeathered, Levitt channels a cross between Lucille Ball and Miss Piggy to spectacular, side-splitting effect. He stole both the show and my heart.

Levitt is paired up with Prentice Daniel, whose cornball energy quickly charms. The two are totally endearing together. Their Act Two duet, "You're Timeless To Me," is so stinking cute, it easily earns it's mini encore. As Tracy's best pal Penny, Henderson brings adorable, dorky energy, and also delivers wow-worthy vocals when the song necessitates.

Tracy's new friends are the ones she meets in detention, Seaweed J. Stubbs (Charlie Bryant III) and his sister Little Inez (Joi D. McCoy). Seaweed takes Tracy and her cohorts to the black side of town, where his mother owns a record shop. Here Tracy meets Motormouth Maybelle (Sandie Lee), Seaweed's mom and the host of the once-a-month "Negro Day" on the Corny Collins Show. Lee brought down the house with the gospel-style "I Know Where I've Been," Hairspray's most-poignant soul song. Her powerhouse of a voice rings rich, warm, and beautifully clear, at once commanding and captivating.

The show's villains are Amber and Velma Von Tussle, a scheming mother-daughter duo. The glamorous, leggy Velma (Addison Garner) is the producer of the Corny Collins Show, intent on keeping her bratty blonde daughter, Amber (Ryahn Evers), in the spotlight. Evers is spot-on and squeaky in the best way. Garner brings not only the poise and biting delivery of a femme fatale alongside terrific vocals, she even spins batons with total ease (with both hands!). She's a standout for sure.

Other standouts are the three Dynamites (Sydney Archibald, Melanie Puente Ervin, and Jade Turner), a Supremes-inspired girl group that earned boisterous applause at the end of the Act One favorite "Welcome to the '60s." And let's not forget crooner and love interest Link Larkin (Nick Cortazzo). Cortazzo is plenty swoon worthy with a lovely voice to boot, but the best thing might just be his easy chemistry with Metcalf's Tracy.

Framing all this fantastic talent is scenic design by David Rockwell, lighting by Paul Miller, costume design by William Ivey Long, and wigs and hair design by Paul Huntley and Bernie Ardia. Choreography by Robbie Roby is impressive and eye-popping throughout. Put it all together and you get an electric, rainbow-magic confection of theatrical escapism that will have you shakin' and shimmyin' with all of your might.

Catch Hairspray at Milwaukee's Marcus Center through February 12th, 2023.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel




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