BWW Review: HAIRSPRAY at Maltz Jupiter Theatre Positively Glows
As the 21st century drudges on, it sometimes feels as if everything keeps getting darker. The news, certainly, but also the things we can actually control- our new favorite films that have been dragging home awards since Sunday, our television programs that have become so visually gray that I tried to wipe my screen down with my sleeve until I realized that no, this is just what producers call "grit". We have placed rules on ourselves, on the bleakness of what we are allowed to consume.
Perhaps that's why Hairspray is the blast of color we've been missing.
It's far from monochromatic, despite what the skeptics may think. Yes, the story of Tracy Turnblad, a plus-sized girl in 1962 with supersized dreams of being famous and getting her hands on the perfect dreamboat- Oh, and desegregating television- is the kind of tale that is easy to consume like a serving of cotton candy. It tastes great, but it doesn't last, unless it is presented in a way that demands it be savored. Director Bill Fennelly demands this, and more- he demands that the rainbow of color he put on the stage be not only thought-provoking, but actually fun, too. (The combination is agonizingly rare today.)
Tracy- played here by Mary DiGangi, an actress so unapologetically committed to an iconic character that you almost forget that that's what she is- approaches everything with gusto, which lands her a role on an all-white teen dance program. Her dream begins to unfold neatly in front of her, right up until that same gusto lands her in trouble. It's 1962 Baltimore, she is reminded; she is not allowed to dance with her black friends anywhere outside the confines of afterschool detention.
Hairspray, while managing to remain a bounding musical comedy, simultaneously becomes a solemn reminder of our racial past and our turbulent present. This is most clear in an astounding number of protest in Act Two performed by an even more astounding Altamiece Carolyn Cooper.
Without giving too much away, I'll say that certain uses of anachronisms, the kind that would usually get at me, only add to the portrait: the Civil Rights movement isn't something that happened. It's something that is happening.
That being said, all shades of gray have been sapped from this production, even in those heartwrenching moments. Looking around the audience, the smiles never fade for a second.
Color is everywhere- the sets by Michael Schweikardt and costumes by Kathleen Geldard, the gravity defying wigs by Gerard Kelly and the main conflict that plagues the ceaselessly lovable characters: colors and colors, reds and blues and pinks and browns of every frequency, shade and intensity.
That list could stretch a while, since the stage and all the performers on it crackle with kinetic energy from the moment the curtain rises- and whatever color you choose to see in a firecracker of a production of a darling of a show, gray will not be one of them.
It's hard to recommend a production more, if I'm being honest. I don't necessarily want to say that you should do anything you can to get your hands on a ticket, but I will say that you should do anything you can to get your hands on a ticket. For the sheer amount of fun or for the politics, for any and every pigment, Hairspray is a blinding rainbow that is not to be missed.