I can hear the bells! They were ringing loud and clear at the Glyndon Area Players 2012 production of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Hairspray. It’s the Baltimore classic and you all know the story – Tracy Turnblad the big beautiful girl who wants to dance on the popular sock-hop TV show and get television integrated to help bring down segregation in the process. The music is great the plot is fun-loving and everyone loves to put on this show. But what makes this particular production so special is all the unique elements that Directors Homero Bayarena and Teresa McCormick Ertel have incorporated to make it one sensational spectacular show.
Bayarena and Ertel work together with a talented cast of just over fifty actors of all ages to put a little extra zing into this already fabulous performance. There is nothing more exceptional than going to see a musical that everyone has done and everyone has seen only to discover amazing little nuances that truly make this production their own. Ertel and Bayarena have intricately woven little signature moments that really make the show stand out in comparsion to your average production.
The sets are incredibly detailed. Set Designer Michael Parks teams up with Bayarena to create the familiar set pieces required of the show with an extra punch of pizzazz. Motormouth Maybelle’s Record shop is the perfect example of this duo’s genius at work. Gleaming towers of reflective surfaces covered in records flank the shop stand on either side with more shining letters in the owner’s name that reflect the big boldness of her personality. The Baltimore Eventorium is awash with bright glittery surfaces from the steps to the Ultra-Clutch can – even the Hardy Har Hut has a beacon of neon pink lighting above it to let you know it’s one big joke shop.
Lighting Designer Jim Shomo adds a few subtle surprises to further amp up the awesomeness of this show. The popular dream song “I Can Hear The Bells” was not only flooded in the serene blue dream light that is typical for this number but there were a myriad of gorgeous kaleidoscope projections filtered over the stage as well; these rainbow beauties appeared throughout the production as well giving the performance that little extra-colorful pick-me-up when appropriate. Shomo also cues police lights from the back of the house, washing them over the audience at the end of act one creating a really neat effect on the stage as all the protesting girls are about to be arrested.
One of the best elements about this show was that both directors were able to incorporate a larger number of people into the cast than is usually called for without overcrowding the stage or having large groups of people standing around doing nothing. The best execution of this was with the Ultra-Clutch Commercial Kids. Seven little ladies and one handsome little man took to the stage as the cutest representation advertising can buy. Performing jingles with lyrics written by Ertel these adorable kids would pop up between scenes, sometimes wearing cans of Ultra-Clutch around their whole bodies, and do a little commercial. Ben Fish leads up the ladies singing lead vocals hear and he’s virtually Corny Collins Jr., a perfect little heartthrob for all the little ladies.
The most incredible thing that this production has to offer is how the actors find new ways to discover their characters. There’s always a risk involved when doing a show of high popularity. I’ve seen this show personally dozens of times and was awestruck and amazed at how these actors were able to bring something exciting, fresh, and new to each of their characters. It was a reawakening to the show letting me experience it like I was seeing it for the first time.
Tracy Turnblad (Monica Rosenblatt) is the big girl we all know her to be. Rosenblatt takes this character one step further and gives her a quaint little touch of attitude. Most people don’t expect Tracy to have a little mean streak in her because she’s so nice and sweet, but Rosenblatt incorporates little instances that really help develop Tracy as a whole. Subtle looks of anger shot at Amber (Gabi Levin) and harsher inflections when trading insults with the spastic little plastic give the character a little more depth and dimension to play with. Rosenblatt also brings a modern vocal quality to the most recognized songs, “Good Morning, Baltimore” and “I Can Hear The Bells” leaving Tracy with a little extra pop-sounding zing when she sings.
The same tweaking occurs with Velma Von Tussle (Laura Simmons) to help keep the sassy villain edgy. Simmons takes the approach of speaking most of the song “Miss Baltimore Crabs” which I personally didn’t think I was going to like until I heard her do it. Simmons clearly enunciates all of the sharp stabbing moments in this song with perfect pitch as she speaks, like driving little daggers into Tracy and any other girl that dares to cross her path.
Link Larkin (Alexander Wynd) is expected to be the teenage heartthrob, the crooner of the class, and Wynd does not disappoint. He even goes so far as to throw his hips into disjointed-double time, putting Elvis to shame when he takes the stage. He’s singing to knock ‘em down. Wynd exudes a confidence when he sings “It Takes Two” he knows his character is sexy, can sing and has no problem flaunting it. His flirtatious pelvis thrusts are second only to the master of smooth, Corny Collins (Hugh Carson) who is so slick when he’s singing “Nicest Kids in Town” and “It’s Hairspray” that your eyes will slide right off of him if you look too long. I’ve never seen a Corny Collins played so smoothly before and I could feel my heart all a flutter with his eager winks and charm directed at any girl in the audience watching.
The powerhouse voice of the show hands down comes from Miss Motormouth Maybelle (Randalyn Storey). There is pride to be had from this character and she lets everyone know it in “Big Blonde and Beautiful.” She’s precocious and determined and you hear it when she sings. But the stunning thing about Storey is her rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been.” Everyone expects this number to be heartfelt and deeply emotional, and while Storey’s rendition provides this qualities she sings her plight with such fierce tenacity, directing every word at the audience so by the end of the song you will know where she has been.
Playing opposite this big beautiful woman is a big beautiful woman of another kind. Director Homera Bayarena steps into the big shoes of Randalyn Storey, Tracy’s voluptuous mother. Bayarena has all the comedy one expects from Edna’s character but also achieves the perfect balance in his voice. Many actors will give you the Baltimore accent without the scratchy sound we’ve all come to associate with Edna or vice versa but Bayarena achieves a smooth blend of both. There are priceless moments during “You’re Timeless To Me” with Wilbur (Brian Stitely) including the silly ad-libbing, especially moment where he says “I think I can hear the bells – wait, no that’s just the ice-cream truck – wait for me!” and then runs off to chase the truck.
And while Storey may have cornered the market on most powerful female voice of the show there is no mistaking that Xavier Brebnor takes the cake as young Seaweed J. Stubbs. Brebnor takes the spunky character to a new plane of existence, making him sexually driven and extremely flirtatious with Penny. To see him using his body so fully really retools the character for the better, giving their united love in “Without Love” an extra fiery kick. Brebnor is vocal tiger that roars with passion in “Run and Tell That” getting some funky dance moves on with his sister Little Inez (Bree Cooper) who definitely shows the audience her new way of moving and that she has her own voice.
But the star of the show, because you just can’t take your eyes off her, is Miss Penny Pingleton (Molly Janiga). Watching this recreation of the meek little character is hysterical; you’ll laugh so hard that you’ll cry. She owns every scene that she’s in, with her intentionally stiff movements and crazy facial expressions, well concealed by her glasses. The most sensational scene with Janiga is “I Can Hear The Bells.” Her shenanigans and antics in this scene are truly uproarious; she starts playing with Link like he’s a shopping mall mannequin, getting run over by the ‘bell-chorus’ girls, and even dragging Link around like he is scenery at one point. And her voice is incredible – thundering emotion into her duet with Seaweed, “Without Love.” The only thing more impressive than her crazy moments early in the show is her total transformation at the end of the show – it’s even more impressive then when they change Sandra Dee in Grease. Janiga deserves an award for her sensational performance.
Hairspray plays its final performance today – Sunday August 19, 2012. For more information on Glyndon Area Players’ upcoming season, visit their website.