The first show of Raleigh Little Theatre’s 2014-15 season is Hairspray, a rollicking musical set in 1962 in Baltimore, MD. Touting a terrific score by Marc Shaiman, with lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman, Hairspray tells the tale of Tracy Turnblad, a high school student who is a touch overweight, whose dream it is to dance on the local teen scene dance show, The Corny Collins Show. Her trials and tribulations are the crux of the musical, along with her firm determination to get The Corny Collins Show racially integrated. With a ten-piece orchestra and a whopping 21-song libretto, Hairspray packs a punch and brings to the stage some serious dancing and singing from a cast that is 26 members strong.
When we first meet Tracy, she is dancing down the aisle of the theater to the tune of “Good Morning, Baltimore,” a powerhouse of a song that presents Emma Wyatt as Tracy and sets up the dynamo that Wyatt carries throughout the performance. We meet Edna, her Mom (Tony Hefner in an amazing characterization), and Wilbur, her Dad (Kevin Ferguson), as well as Penny Pingleton (Elin Waring), Tracy’s irrepressible sidekick. When a slot comes open on The Corny Collins Show’s dance team, Tracy goes to audition and, despite meeting many obstacles, obtains the role. This is due mainly to Corny Collins himself (Brian Hollingsworth), who sees Tracy as the spark plug she is and hires her over the loud protestations of the producer, Velma Von Tussle (Natalie Turgeon), who cannot see past Tracy’s weight.
Tracy immediately bumps into her own teen heartthrob, Link Larkin (Tim Malboeuf), who is duly impressed with her dancing and, against all odds, becomes her boyfriend. He leaves behind the lead dancer of the show, Mrs. Von Tussle’s daughter Amber (Gretchen Bruesehoff), a self-centered little brat who vows to put an end to Tracy’s dance career on the show.
Tracy’s irrepressible nature tends to land her in detention, where she meets several black members of her high school that are hip to the music scene as well. Tracy believes they should all get to dance together on The Corny Collins Show. The group leads her to the home of Motormouth Maybelle (Tina Morris-Anderson), and the two plot to take the show by storm.
The production is built on a multilevel set that places the orchestra upstage, behind the action, and allows for several levels of action. The set was designed by Elizabeth Newton, who has festooned the drapes with records (“45s”) to indicate the main theme. Several scenes are created with just a few set pieces, created by an intrepid crew who appear and disappear as if by magic.
Director L. D. Burris also choreographed the show, a monumental task that Burris seemingly handled with ease. The production reflects a mountain of work done by this cast, who seem to spend every minute onstage dancing. This dancing was tight, well-executed, and truly entertaining. The sixties dance theme is well represented by music that is in turns do-wop, rhythm and blues, and crooning.
The atmosphere of Hairspray was that of high energy and well-controlled enthusiasm that permeated every number. The dancing was superb and leant a high degree of authenticity to the period. The leads were all spot-on, and their characterizations were superbly developed. Highlights of Act I include major company numbers like “I Can Hear the Bells,” when Tracy meets Link for the first time, and “Welcome to the Sixties,” sung by Tracy and a song-and-dance trio known as the Dynamites (Kwamea Wilkerson, April Christianson, and Destiny McNeill). The finale of Act I brought down the house, as Motormouth Maybelle and the company dazzled with “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful.”
Act II brings Edna and Wilbur’s love song, “You’re Timeless to Me.” The audience loved this duet, and they loudly showed their enthusiasm. The final number, “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” rocked the stage with the entire cast.
Hairspray is a major musical production that requires intensive dancing and incredible voices, and RLT’s cast and crew did the show proud. From the opening introduction to the blowout finale, this cast delivered in spades. The audience responded in kind opening night with tumultuous applause and hoots and hollers when the scene warranted. The audience ate this show up, and it was evident to everyone present that a huge amount of work was poured into this production. RLT has a major hit with Hairspray, and it receives an unqualified recommendation.
Hairspray has been extended through Friday, September 12. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.