‘Hairspray’ at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore by Amanda Gunther

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Get ready Baltimore – Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore is welcoming you to the 60’s with their fabulously fantastic production of the Tony Award-winning Musical Hairspray. Baltimore’s iconic musical strolls into town for a singing and dancing good time that will have audiences everywhere tapping their toes and dancing in their seats. Tracy is the kid who’s blowing the lid off her family tree by defying the standards of television – she auditions, as a hefty girl, to dance on The Corny Collins Show, which is the chance of a lifetime. With great upbeat songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wiitman and incredible dance numbers – Hairspray is sure to blow your mind!

The cast of 'Hairspray' at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Baltimore. Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

Of course we wouldn’t be in the 1960’s without the crazy costume styling of Director Lawrence B. Munsey who takes his talents to the cloth in this production. There are wigs nearly a foot high for those perfectly teased hairdos and we see a wild showcase of these during the ‘Miss Hairspray’ competition late in the show. And the dresses scream “Fabulous!” From the sparkling fiery red dresses that define The Dynamites to the various glamorous outfits donned by Mrs. Edna Turnblad (also played by Munsey) the stage is a veritable explosion of sequences, colors, and bugle beads. The most stunning of the dresses are showcased during the finale and you won’t be able to stop staring at these incredible creations – including the hideous yet gorgeous buttercup ruffle dresses designed in two tones for the Von Tussle women.

This production is a powerhouse of ferocious dancing. Choreographer Christen Svingos really jams the energy into each of the big dance numbers, letting the talent of the cast ring through their movements. When that crazy bunch of kids crash through the doors of The Corny Collins Show you see just how crazy they are with Svingos talented execution of movement heavy dancing. They are swinging their arms around to create full figures upon the stage with heavy stomping beats as they dance. Svingos makes great use of filling the broad stage, each of the ensemble numbers, especially “Good Morning, Baltimore” and “You Can’t Stop The Beat,” giving the production a sense of being fully packed with people.

There are some clever lighting aspects to this production that separate it from your run of the mill production of this show. Lighting Designer Lynn Joslin creates beautiful projections of bubbly pink hearts that glow across Tracy and onto the backdrop during “I Can Hear The Bells.” We see a huge disco ball lighting up the stage during the Sophomore Sock Hop where Tracy gets discovered, and Joslin employs a unique use of silhouette shadowing against the backdrop during “Without Love.” Joslin uses her lighting to accent the songs and highlight the characters, adding another dimension of enjoyment to this show.

But the true highlight of the show is the powerful stunning voices that shake the house down. Director Lawrence B. Munsey combined with the efforts of Musical Director Brant Challacombe bring a high-powered energy to their cast, making sure that every moment is bursting full of life. This sentiment is echoed in the ferocity of the singer’s voices and the emotions they express throughout the production. The Dynamites (Ashley Johnson, Jessica Coleman, and Mary Searcy) have voices that shine as brightly as their sparkly dresses in “Welcome To The 60’s.” This terrific trio of women are heard again as members of the ensemble in the forceful finale of “I Know Where I’ve Been” and are easily recognizable in the crowd.

Motormouth Maybelle (Kelli Blackwell) belts a soulful mournful ballad during “I Know Where I’ve Been” that echoes the humbling struggle of her fight for equality. Blackwell is a thunderous presence on stage, speaking in her rhymes with a big smile, and she exudes confidence of her beauty and size during “Big Blonde and Beautiful.” And Seaweed J. Stubs (David Little) is no exception to this strong sound. When Little takes the stage during “Run and Tell That” his voice echoes across the audience as he slips, slides, and shakes his groovy dance work from detention to his mom’s record shop. His romantic duet with Penny Pingleton (Amanda Kaplan) is a sweet and passionate sound that makes his love-at-first-sight romance that much more believable.

Tracy Turnblad (Celia Blitzer) and Edna Turnblad (Lawrence Munsey) and the cast performs "Welcome To The 60's." Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

Kaplan, as Penny, is the spitting portrayal of a spastic little plastic. Her character explodes with that non-stop hyper jittery energy and her squeaky little voice completes the picture. But don’t be fooled this tiny little jumper packs a wallop in her belting during “Mama, I’m A Big Girl Now,” and again during “You Can’t Stop The Beat.” Keep your eyes on Kaplan as she bounds around the stage, her spastic nature almost contagious. Matching her talent but in a completely different format is the queen bitch of the high school little Amber Von Tussle (Katie Heidbreder). Her snotty uppity attitude rings true every time she takes the stage and it’s hysterical. Heidbreder has a voice to be heard during her solo “Cooties” and her attitude reigns supreme every time she pokes fun at Tracy. Heidbreder is snarky, edgy and outdone in this moody ‘tude only by her mother Velma Von Tussle (Elizabeth Rayca).

Rayca brings a fresh vicious air to the character of Velma. When she marches across the stage leading the studio in a defensive attack against Tracy at the end of her solo she’s frightening. During “Miss Baltimore Crabs” that unctuous evil slides off her tongue with ease. She’s just as bitchy though more conniving and it rings through in “Velma’s Revenge.” A truly villainous performance from both Rayca and Heidbreder, especially when they show themselves as a mother daughter duo in Motormouth Maybelle’s record shop, trying to take Link back to the ‘right’ side of town.

The cat’s meow is singing from the crooning voice of Link Larkin (Austin Colby). His every move is smooth and sleek and when he picks up the guitar he looks like the spitting image of a young Elvis. Colby has a sweet voice that croons to Tracy (Celia Blitzer) during “It Takes Two.” But the most impressive things about Colby isn’t his voice but his priceless facial expressions. During this number girls are flinging themselves at him, clutching his legs, and he takes a moment to have a startled look of surprise and worry before panning that perfect twinkling smile back to the camera. His budding relationship with Tracy sweeps the audience off their feet, caught up in the notion of young love with this handsome young heartthrob.

"I Can Hear The Bells" with Link Larkin (Austin Colby) and Tracy Turnblad (Celia Blitzer) and Ensemble. Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

And what would Hairspray be without The Turnblad Family? These three actors provide levels of comedy and talent unparalleled to any other. We meet the jovial jokester Mr. Turnblad (Charlie Abel) in his hilarious joke shop and instantly you love him. His monkey shenanigans will keep you in stitches as his jokes roll off his tongue with ease. The beautiful chemistry Abel shares with Edna Turnblad (Lawrence Munsey) is phenomenal. The pair share a song “Timeless To Me” and really get the audience excited with their incredible dancing and flirting all around the stage. Abel is quite the talented dancer, showing off his moves and the enthusiasm for his marriage in this number. Abel really stirs up some comical moves with Munsey when they are in the living room celebrating Tracy’s appearance on TV with Corny Collins (Chad Wheeler) his body swinging around the space like a monkey unhinged.

Edna Turnblad (Lawrence Munsey) and Wilbur Turnblad (Charlie Abel) "You're Timeless To Me."Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

Edna Turnblad (Munsey) is a presence you can’t deny on the stage. Munsey masters the Baltimore accent with a touch of class and his personality overtakes the stage in every scene he’s in. When he joins up with Blackwell, Abel, and Blitzer during the finale of “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful” there is a boisterous belt that echoes out to the world, showing the true power behind his voice. Munsey makes the perfect mother – a bickering yet loving relationship with Blitzer evidences throughout the production, and when he goes on the attack after Velma in the record shop, it’s a defensive mamma nightmare. His dancing is incredible; the way he maneuvers around the stage in high heels and the glamorous gigantic dresses is unbelievable. And when he makes his grand entrance during “Welcome to the 60’s” the confidence from his newly dressed character is a show-stopping moment unlike any other.

And then there’s the star of the show. Tracy Turnblad (Celia Blitzer) is a ball of bright excitement. Blitzer never stops moving, she’s constantly dancing, her feet always in motion, carrying the high level of energy that the show demands throughout the entire production. Her wide eager eyes speak volumes of her character from the moment she wakes up in her bed to the moment she stands gaping at Link in awe. During her solo “I Can Hear The Bells” her voice is so filled with dreams that you can see them. Blitzer owns this role unlike any I’ve ever seen. Her songs are packed to the brim with her emotions, each song a glimpse into Tracy’s heart. And when she dances with Seaweed (Little) in detention her body is channeling the true spirit of the 60’s. Blitzer is a sensational performer who brings the essence of Tracy Turnblad to life with Broadway panache and brilliant moments of 60’s shine

Are you listening to me, Baltimore? Because I’m ready to run and tell that Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore is putting on the most amazing production of Hairspray in town – and you don’t want to miss out!

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.

Hairspray plays through July 1, 2012 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore – 5625 O’Donnell Street in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 730-8311, or purchase them online.