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Review: HAIRSPRAY at National Theatre

Hang on to your big hair and take a trip back to the 1960’s

Review: HAIRSPRAY at National Theatre
Niki Metcalf, Andrew Levitt (aka Nina West), and the company
of the US National Tour of Hairspray.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Hang on to your big hair and take a trip back to the 1960's with the current US touring company of the Tony Award winning musical Hairspray playing through this Sunday at the National Theatre.

The swinging, bopping full of fun with a great message about inclusion for all musical features a fun score by Mark Shaiman (Music, Lyrics, and Arrangements) and Scott Whitman (Lyrics) and a funny yet serious book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan.

We are in early 1960's Baltimore and our heroine Tracy Turnblad (Faith Northcutt at my performance) wants nothing more than to be on the Corny Collins Show as one of "The Nicest Kids in Town". Her mother Edna (Andrew Levitt) is against the idea as full-figured kids like Tracy are never seen on TV. Her father Wilbur (Christopher Swan) owns a magic shop called the Hardy Har Hut and is more supportive of Tracy auditioning.

The Corny Collins Show is basically segregated to white kids dancing except for one day a month when they have Negro Day. When Tracy meets an African American kid named Seaweed J. Stubbs (Jamonté D. Bruten) the two decide to try to de segregate the show. Seaweed's mom Motormouth Maybelle (Sandie Lee) works at the TV station. Meanwhile one of the teenage dancers has managed to get herself pregnant and there becomes an opening. While Tracy really wants the job and Corny (Billy Dawson) loves her dancing, the producer Velma Von Tussle (Emery Henderson) thinks she can manipulate the contest in favor of her daughter Amber (Kaelee Albritton). I think you know where this goes from here.

Let's just get the white elephant out of the room right now. This is a non-equity tour which means the performers and everyone working on the production are paid way less than they should be. They are working as hard as a union company and should be compensated as such.

This does not mean however that the talent level is any less in fact there are many in the company that I can tell are going to have very promising careers.

Faith Northcutt as Tracy Turnblad gives an endearing performance. Northcutt is actually an understudy for the role and also serves as the show's dance captain. Her performance features both strong acting and singing. From the minute she opens her mouth in "Good Morning Baltimore" her first "OH OH OH" had me hooked. Ok, they could have padded her up a little bit but you forgot about that after a while. Tracy should be full figured and Ms. Norcutt is definitely not.

Another standout performance hands down would be the killer work of Andrew Levitt as Edna Turnblad. You might know Andrew Levitt as drag queen Nina West from Ru Paul's Drag Race. Levitt is immensely talented, wears Edna's mo-moo like no one can and stops the show with "You're Timeless to Me" which is his big duet with Christopher Swan.

Other standouts include the greasy mother and daughter Von Tussles Velma and Amber as played by Addison Garner and Kaelee Albritton respectively.

A big shout out goes to Will Savarese as heartthrob Link Larkin for giving some depth into what sometimes is played as a one-dimensional character. His vocal on "It Takes Two" with Norcutt is a definite highlight.

Jamonté D. Bruten as Seaweed shows off his incredible dance moves and Sandie Lee's Motormouth stops the show with her eleven o'clock song called "I Know Where I've Been".

The ensemble is uniformly tight performing Jerry Mitchell's original choreography as set for this tour by Michele Lynch. "You Can't Stop the Beat" has all the energy you remember it having and sends you out of the theatre singing its refrain.

Harold Wheeler's original orchestrations are slightly cut down for this tour to only nine players from the original fourteen or fifteen that were used on Broadway but Patrick Hoagland's ensemble sounds nice and full. For those wondering, there is only one reed and trumpet where there were two and the percussion (not drums) chair is also cut. And of course, the absence of live strings on some of the ballads is greatly missed.

Matt Lenz's direction is well paced throughout and brings the message of acceptance to the forefront without it being preachy. That's a delicate balance to be sure.

Overall, I encourage you to see the current tour of Hairspray. There is some incredible talent and the show as a whole delivers a great message in between all the fun music. "I Can Hear the Bells" and so will you.

Running Time: Two hours and 35 minutes with one intermission.

Hairspray runs through May 15th, 2022 at the National Theatre which is located at

1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, click here.

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