BWW Reviews: HAIRSPRAY at the Signature - Simply a Treat

By: Dec. 20, 2011
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As a transplanted Baltimorean for now more than forty years, I take special pleasure seeing the musical Hairspray based on the John Waters' 1988 film about racism in 1960's Baltimore where the popular "Corny Collins" television dance show (similar to Philadelphia's "Dick Clark's American Bandstand") is not allowed to mix the races on his show. In Baltimore it was known as the "Buddy Dean" show where the young women dancers were known for their buffont hair styles and were the rage.

This is a musical comedy that actually has a message and is based on real events. The musical opened on Broadway in 2003 and lasted over 6 years winning eight Tony Awards including "Best Musical." 

It was then turned into a film in 2007 with John Travolta.  But instead of being filmed in Baltimore, the producers used a soundstage in Toronto which greatly detracted from it's authenticity.

What a genius Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer is to present this "musical with a message" in the intimate setting of the Signature. Schaeffer took it upon himself to direct and does a masterfull job with a superb cast.

This is a dance musical and fresh from her superb job at Arena Stage's wonderful production  of Oklahoma comes Karma Camp who works with an enthusiastic young cast to present some superb dancing from the ensemble.  You'll have trouble sitting in your seats.

Kathleen Geldard has fun designing the authentic '60's costumes.

Set Designer Dan Conway makes the small stage come alive with fibrant colors.

Colin K. Bills is responsible for the effective and clever lighting.

Once again, the Signature does not scrimp on the music. Musical Director Jon Kalbfleisch has assembled a nine piece orchestra that sounds like twice as many. They are terrific.

Hairspray has to have a young leading lady, Edna Turnblad, who is overweight but can sing and dance as if she deserved to be on the "Collins" show. Schaeffer found a delightful energetic Tracy Turnblad in Carolyn Cole. What a talent. She sings, acts, and dances her heart out. You will fall in love with her.

Tracy does have a mother, Edna. Every Hairspray production has a male play the role of Edna and Signature has cast DC television personality Robert Aubrey Davis to play the part. I recall Davis from his "Around Town" program on WETA which in the past was a delightful 30 minute show about the arts. Davis plays his part to the hilt and even manages a nice Baltimore accent with his pronounciation of "iron" and "hon".

There are many other actors who deserve credit.  James Hayden Rodriguez plays Seaweed to the hilt. (For you fans of the hit cable television show "The Closer", you can see the original "Seaweed", Corey Reynolds.

PatRick Thomas Cragin is a wonderful Link Larkin. (You can see the original "Link" in the hit televison show "Glee", teacher Matthew Morrison.

There is in fact at least one Baltimorean in the cast, Lauren Williams who plays Tracey's best friend Penny.  This could be the best acting job I've ever seen of Lauren.  It's a great role for her. (I wonder how many packs of chewing gum she goes through in a performance.)

Stephen Gregory Smith could be the best "Corny Collins" I've ever seen.

Other actors who deserve special mention are Erin Driscoll (Amber), Sherri L. Edelen (Velma), Adhana Reid (Little Inez), Matt Conner (in a number of roles), Harry Winter (Wilbur) and finally Nova Y. Payton as Motormouth Mabelle. Lucky there are no windows in the theatre otherwise her voice would have destroyed them.

At the end, like in many recent musicals, there is a coda and the actors plead the audience to join them to dance.  Don't be embarrassed. Join in the fun.

Hairspray continues until January 29, 2012 and even has a New Year's Eve performance. Call 703-573-7328 or visit

Photo Credit: Christopher Mueller


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