Review: ‘Hairspray’ at Fredericktowne Players

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A transformation is underway in Frederick Maryland’s local theater community. Nowhere is that more evident than inside the JBK Theater, watching the Fredericktowne Players (FtP) latest production of Hairspray. Eschewing the historic conventions of past productions, this production is noteworthy for bringing in dozens of new performers, crew and an infectious energy not seen on an FtP stage in many years.

Chris Berry and Natalie Mixon in Hairspray. Photo courtesy of The Fredericktowne Players.

Director Matt Kopp , in one of the most impressive directorial debuts in memory, squeezes every ounce of energy, introspection and fun possible from Baltimore icon John Waters’ original vision. The book by Thomas Meehan and Mark O’Donnell and music by Marc Shaiman tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a teen growing up in Charm City in the early 60’s. In the context of a local TV dance show, Tracy is forced to confront issues that are as timely today as they were when the show debuted on Broadway. Body-shaming, race relations and bullying might not sound like the typical musical theater fare, but in the hands of this cast and crew, you not only embrace the necessity for change, you want to leap from your seat to join the movement! Director Kopp brings a new level of talent and energy to the FtP team, and the production raises the bar for the whole company.

Technically, the show is near perfection. The orchestra fills the theater with joyful noise, and their placement onstage is perfect. The set design defines efficient simplicity, but helps set the locations and tell the story. Worthy of note is the artistic talent of set designers Becca Sears and Mike Warshour and set painter Morgan Southwell. Lighting Designer Steve Cairn’s onstage experience means a lighting design that helps the performers get the most from their moment. The show also features excellent vocal direction from Matthew Jacob Dohm, and Kate Cawley’s outstanding effort behind the curtain as Stage Manager helps ensure the show goes off without a hitch. On the tech side, the most obvious and impressive work comes from the choreography team. Kendall Sigman (Choreographer) and Morgan Southwell (Asst. Choreographer) blow the doors off the theater with consistently outstanding, high-energy dance numbers.

Onstage, it’s safe to say that every single performer who crosses those boards gives it everything they’ve got, and often much more. There are a number of roles that deserve some extra acknowledgement, though. The three Dynamites, a female vocal trio comprised of Brianna Winstead, Sydney Winstead and Alexia Fountain, are a joy to behold. Playing multiple roles, Brittany Poindexter is a powerhouse of voice and energy. Rita Scott (Little Inez) is a junior at Urbana High, but we’ll no doubt see her onstage in the future, she’s incredibly talented. Likewise Zachary Bryant as Seaweed Stubbs. Mr. Bryant moves with the grace of a professionally trained dancer, and imbues the Stubbs character with energy and subtlety, especially when he deals with institutional racism. The two villainesses, Lisa Swinton (Thelma Van Tussle) and Bonnie Fox as her stage daughter Amber make the most of their bad-gal turns. Ms. Swinton sneers and dismisses the rest of the cast throughout, especially anyone she considers beneath her, until her final scene comeuppance. It’s perfect!

Corinthian Carr, Zachary Bryant, and Becca Sears in Hairspray. Photo courtesy of The Fredericktowne Players.

Corinthian Carr (Motormouth Maybelle) stops the show after her number in mid-Act 2. She received a standing ovation, and she deserved it. It’s a truly stunning performance for her first-ever musical theater role. Austin Ianneo (Link Larkin) hits the right mix of teen heartthrob swagger and teenage self-doubt, and Alex Prete (Corny Collins) is perfectly swarmy as the TV dance show host. Another one of my personal favorites is Becca Sears as Penny Lou Pingleton, Tracy’s trusted friend through thick and thin. Ms. Sears just owns that role, in the best way possible.

Mike Warshour (Wilbur Turnblad) is perfection as Tracy’s father. He encourages her to embrace her dreams and dismiss her doubters. Chris Berry (Edna Turnblad) takes the iconic role to new heights. His Baltimore accent is dead-on, and his transition from house-frau to TV star is a thing of beauty. Finally, we just have to talk about Natalie Mixon in the role of Tracy. Natalie is a 14 year-old high school freshman. She is also a star. A bright, shining practically-Broadway quality star. Great dancer, excellent vocalist, and a generous and talented actress, this kid literally has it all!

Running Time: 2 hours, including a 15-minute intermission.

Hairspray plays through July 23, 2017, at the Jack B. Kussmaul Theater on the campus of Frederick Community College – 7932 Opossumtown Pike, Frederick, MD. For tickets, buy them at the door or purchase them online.

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