For Triangle theatergoers, Nov. 29th was Fat Tuesday: the day that Broadway Series South brought the National Tour of Hairspray, the multiple-Tony Award®-winning 2002 Broadway musical about a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, to Raleigh Memorial Auditorium for eight glorious performances. Moreover, Tuesday was the day that standby Christine M. Danelson took over the lead role of Tracy Turnblad from star Keala Settle. Danelson proved to be a regular ball of fire as the altruistic teenager whose well-meaning attempt to integrate a local TV teenage dance show scandalized segregated Baltimore, MD, circa 1962.
Already scorned by most of her peers for being overweight and the child of a couple of decidedly peculiar parents — goofball joke-shop proprietor Wilbur Turnblad (Jim J. Bullock) and his enormous, gravelly-voiced wife, Edna (J. P. Dougherty in drag), who takes in laundry — Tracy is a normal teenager nevertheless. She copies her coif from the bouffant hairstyle popularized by First Lady Jackie Kennedy, and she wants to be cool and dance with her classmates on “The Corny Collins Show,” which spins the latest Top 40 tunes but only allows black teenagers to dance once a month on a separate “Negro Day.”
Tracy, who has met Seaweed J. Stubbs (Alan Mingo, Jr.) and other African-American teenagers in detention, cannot understand why black and white kids cannot dance together on the “American Bandstand”-style show emceed by DJ Corny Collins (suavely played by Paul McQuillan). She also wants to compete for the title of Miss Teenage Hairspray 1962 on “The Corny Collins Show,” and she cannot understand what an impossible dream that would be for a chubby teenager such as herself.
With Christine Danelson giving a warm and winning performance as Tracy, Aaron Tveit provides an utterly charming characterization of hip-swiveling teenage heartthrob and “Corny Collins Show” headliner Link Larkin; and J. P. Dougherty and Jim J. Bullock provoke wave after wave of laughter with their flamboyant impersonations of sometimes surly, sometimes sweet Edna and ever-genial Wilbur Turnblad.
This traveling version of Hairspray is a scream from first to last. Indeed, Tuesday’s opening-night performance earned a raucous standing ovation that went on and on and on.
Caissie Levy and Jane Blass are hilarious as Tracy’s painfully shy best friend Penny Pingleton and her overbearing mother Prudy; and Alan Mingo, Jr., Charlotte Crossley, and Naturi Naughton really strut their stuff as the irrepressible Seaweed Stubbs, his equally irrepressible mother Motormouth Maybelle, and Seaweed’s spunky sister Li’l Inez. Jane Blass also tickles the audience’s funny bone with her outrageous antics as a butch high-school gym teacher and the malevolent matron of the county jail.
Susan Henley is a hoot as racially prejudiced dance-show producer Velma Von Tussle, the former Miss Baltimore Crabs whose is utterly ruthless in her behind-the-scene machinations to get her ditzy blonde daughter Amber (wonderfully played by Tara Macri) crowned as Miss Teenage Hairspray 1962; and John Salvatore is very funny as Ultra Clutch hairspray mogul Herman F. Spritzer, the high-school Principal, and Mr. Pinky of the Hefty Hideaway, which sells “quality clothes for quantity gals.”
Director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell, who brilliantly staged the still-running Broadway version of Hairspray, repeat their theatrical magic for the National Tour, which also features outstanding efforts by the Broadway design team of David Rockwell (sets), North Carolina native William Ivey Long (costumes), Kenneth Posner (lighting), and Steve C. Kennedy (sound).
Musical director/conductor Jim Vukovich (synthesizer), assistant conductor Ron Colvard (synthesizer), Josh Weinstein (electric and acoustic guitar), Frank Canino (bass), and Alan Childs (drums) perform Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s Tony-winning score with pizzazz; and Karen Burthwright, Amanda DeFreitas, and Anastacia McCleskey provide oomph as The Dynamites.
The touring version of magnificent message musical, produced by Margo Lion, Adam Epstein, et al., loses none of the power of the Broadway original. Broadway Series South has provided local audiences with the rare opportunity to see the National Tour of a big Broadway musical while it is a big hit on the Great White Way. Don’t miss Hairspray.
Broadway Series South presents Hairspray Thursday-Friday, Dec. 1-2, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 3, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 4, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $34-$84. Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Rates (for groups of 20 or more): 919/857-4565 or http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2005-2006/group.html#hair [inactive 2/06]. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2005-2006/broadway.html#hairspray [inactive 2/06]. The Broadway Show: http://www.hairsprayonbroadway.com/ [inactive 2/09]. The Tour: http://www.hairsprayontour.com/ [inactive 8/06]. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095270/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=11033.