Wednesday, June 17, 2015

'Hairspray:' No Mourning in Baltimore

Jordan Cyphert as Corny Collins with th e"Nicest Kids in Town"
By Dan Hagen
The dress rehearsal for the Little Theatre’s second show of the season reminded me just how well Hairspray works as a musical.
The John Waters story about outsiders (persecuted for their pounds and pigmentation) who are trying to get inside a local TV dance program in 1964 provides a perfect excuse for dance after dance. You realize that the large cast must be exhausted by the end of director Kevin Long’s brisk, high-energy show, although their smiles never show it.
Colorful costumes by Sherri Milo are shown off to good effect against a terrific set by Noel Rennerfeldt.
From the moment Tracy Turnblad (Sara Reinecke) emerges from her dramatically vertical bed to sing the life-affirming anthem Good Morning Baltimore, the comic book colors of the set catch and please the eye. I particularly enjoyed the big vari-colored light panels surrounding the stage and the angled, Seuss-like buildings.
Double kudos go to Lee Ann Payne as actor and choreographer. The Equity performer (Reno in 2014’s Anything Goes) brings stage presence and assurance to the role of mean mom Velma Von Tussle, glorying like Cruella De Vil in the memory of her triumph as Miss Baltimore Crabs.
Claire Kapustka sparkles in the role of the girl in Tracy’s shadow, her best friend Penny Pingleton. The show now plays the “forbidden romance” angle as a throwaway for laughs, I suspect because younger audiences now regard the idea that interracial romance was ever controversial with mere puzzlement. So some things do get better, after all.
Therese Kincade plays Penny’s weird mom, a butch dodge ball coach and a goofy jail guard, all with cartoonish verve.
There’s a greater or lesser cartoon angle to much of this show, in fact, right up to the moment that Motormouth Maybelle (Kendra Lynn Lucas) belts out the gospel-like tune I Know Where I’ve Been. Her voice is thrilling, and the song is a heart-tugging anthem for any besieged minority.
Colleen Johnson (who just played the title role in Mary Poppins) is the vixen Amber Von Tussle, and gets a handsome chance to express her contempt for Tracy in the song and dance number Cooties.
Little Theatre veteran crowd-pleaser Jack Milo is back as Tracy’s father, a genial joke shop owner whose sinuously goofy dancing style made us smile.
Gus Gordon gets the drag role of Tracy’s mother Edna, the woman whose last diet pill is forever wearing off. Gordon amuses the audience and engages their affections without ever going overboard, wise enough to know that the costume is going to carry some of the weight of the performance. I think it’s the best work I’ve seen Gordon do on this stage. Gordon and Milo sway together through one of the most charming numbers in the show, You’re Timeless to Me.
Corbin Williams plays handsome heartthrob Link Larkin. I like the subtle way he invests his good looks with a sort of beguiling vacuity.
Sara Reinecke as Tracy Turnblad (News-Progress photos by Keith Stewart)
Tracy is required to be considerably overweight, yet so unsinkable, fair-minded and sunny that handsome Link can’t help but fall for her. That’s not an easy needle to thread in every production, but Reinecke brings it off easily here, radiating good nature and fascinating with her beautiful eyes.
Perhaps most impressive is the limber-limbed, laughing Gilbert Domally as Seaweed Stubbs, Penny’s true love. Domally has a riveting stage presence and delivers the show’s funniest line in a perfect deadpan. I’ll tell you it’s about chewing gum, and leave it at that.
The best number comes at the end of the short second act, and it features the entire company singing and dancing You Can’t Stop the Beat. The song rolls on through a reprise with the cast gyrating swiftly and hypnotically.
Incidental intelligence: Hairspray, which opens today and runs through June 28, has music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman and a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, and is based on the 1988 John Waters film Hairspray. Songs include 1960s-style dance music and “downtown” rhythm and blues.
The show has lighting design by Michael Cole, stage management by Jeremy J. Phillips and musical direction by Andy Hudson. The cast includes Jordan Cyphert, Josh Houghton, China Brickey, Emily Bacino Althaus, Danielle Davila, David Davis, Megan Farley, Daniel Gold, Daryn Harrell, Danielle Jackman, Chloe Kounadis, Ben Locke, Brady Miller, Collin O’Connor and Collin Sanderson.
For tickets, call The Little Theatre On The Square Box Office at 217-728-7375.

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