Review: HAIRSPRAY at Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre is a toe-tapping good time

Playing next weekend at North Side High School

By: Jul. 11, 2022
Review: HAIRSPRAY at Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre is a toe-tapping good time

The Indiana Music Theatre Foundation is back again with a toe-tapping, fun-filled production of HAIRSPRAY, performed by the Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre as part of this year's Three Rivers Festival. After last summer's stunning production of LES MISERABLES, I had high expectations for HAIRSPRAY, and I'm happy to report that it did not disappoint.

Review: HAIRSPRAY at Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre is a toe-tapping good time

If you've never seen the 2002 musical or the 2007 film based on the same show, HAIRSPRAY (set in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1962) follows the plus-sized teenage Tracy Turnblad on her self-imposed mission to become a dancer on the Corny Collins Show, a local televised teen dance program. Her personal dream is soon surpassed by a larger goal for social change as Tracey tries to kickstart a campaign for racial integration so that everyone can dance together on TV.

The North Side auditorium is a great venue for the show, especially since it was the Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre's home for a number of years in the past. The production makes smart use of the space, with the mainstage mostly taken up by a set of colorful risers covered in records that doubles as both the Corny Collins television set and Motormouth Maybelle's record store. All of the other set transitions were incredibly smooth (some of which I missed in the blink of an eye) so major props to the stage crew for this show for helping the scenes transition with ease. Between the colorful set and the incredible lighting design, it's a visual feast for the eyes.

The performers, though, are what really bring this sparkling show to life. 78 students were involved in the musical, from over 26 secondary schools across Indiana and Ohio, which is a collaboration deserving of accolades all on its own.

Corny Collins, played by Owen Saalfrank, was one of the highlights for me; beyond his stellar voice, he was so incredibly charismatic, and that pure magnetism helped cultivate the magic of the Corny Collins show. Rachel Lopez's portrayal of Tracy Turnblad had a similar effect, bringing a spark of energy and joy to every scene she was in. Her smile could have powered the stage lights on its own, and her passion and enthusiasm were contagious.

Review: HAIRSPRAY at Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre is a toe-tapping good time

One standout song was "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now" featuring the six lovely voices of Rachel Lopez as Tracy Turnblad, Isaac Knudsen as Edna Turnblad, Cassie Rentfrow as Amber Von Tussle, Addi Antibus as Velma Von Tussle, Hannah Fox as Penny Pingleton, and Leah Lusk as Prudy Pingleton. Their voices complemented each other incredibly well during that number, and you'll surely be delighted by the boppy harmonies.

My favorite moment in the show, though, was certainly "I Know Where I've Been," the gospel-style song led by Motormouth Maybelle, played by the absolutely outstanding Ta'Korei Moore. She, and the rest of the company, gave me literal chills as they sang the powerful ballad that reminds us that this musical is about more than just teenagers wanting to dance on a television show; it's about the slow and painful work towards racial equality that they were striving for in the 1960s and that we unfortunately still haven't reached today. I could feel the company's emotion conveyed through every word of that song, and it almost left me with tears in my eyes.

Finally, one of the other gems of the show was the fact that the ensemble members completely lean into their roles every second they're on stage. They crush the high-energy choreography, for sure, but beyond that- there are so many moments of pure physical comedy upstage within the ensemble that you might not even catch the first time around because there's so much to look at. However, those ensemble moments really added to the liveliness of the scenes; I caught myself laughing out loud (obnoxiously loudly, I'm sure) a number of times simply because I'd caught something funny going on in the background. So I encourage you to take it all in and really appreciate how these young performers were able to add layers of depth to each and every scene.

Review: HAIRSPRAY at Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre is a toe-tapping good time

The show has a couple of other fun surprises in store for you, too, so be sure to catch one of their final three performances next weekend. HAIRSPRAY is directed by Andrew Sherman with assistant direction by Alex Leavell, choreography by Leslie Beauchamp and Britney Lombardo, music direction by Holly Knott and Ben Wedler, and stage management by Kara Tharpe and Shawna Roberts.

You can see HAIRSPRAY on July 15 and July 16 at 7:30 pm, and July 17 at 2:00 pm, at North Side High School (475 E. State Blvd). Adults are $18 and students are $15, and you can buy tickets at the door or online here. For more information, see the IMTF Facebook page or be sure to follow their TikTok.

While you're at the show, be sure to check out the silent auction items in the lobby, and keep an eye out for information about the Fort Wayne premiere of AMERICAN IDIOT, to be performed at Arena Dinner Theatre in September as the first in IMTF's 18+ musical series.


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