Set in 1960’s Baltimore, Hairspray tells the tale of Tracy Turnblad (Emily Reggia), a larger-than-life sixteen year-old girl who dreams of becoming a star on the ultra-hip Corny Collins Show. After successfully winning over the show’s host, Corny Collins (Jonathan Miot), and serenading teenage heartthrob Link Larkin (Tyler Angier), Tracy’s road to stardom takes an unexpected turn as she finds herself at the forefront of a movement to racially integrate the television program. With her best friend Penny Pingleton (Kelly Craige) and newfound companion Seaweed Stubbs (Saidu Sinlah) by her side, Tracy tackles the villainous station manager Velma Von Tussle (Kathryn Furtado) and daughter Amber Von Tussle (Maggie Donovan) who try to keep the station racially segregated. Adorned with hair-raising musical numbers, spectacular choreography, and dazzling costumes, ‘Hairspray’ is, at its core, a story about chasing adolescent romance, cultivating youthful optimism, and challenging the status quo – a timeless story told through fourteen toe-tapping numbers that will leave you bopping along by the final curtain call.
The original Broadway production of Hairspray was the first show I ever saw on Broadway, and, with a widely popular movie musical released only five years ago, the production had a lot to live up to. What I saw pleasantly surprised me. Though not without some technical slip-ups, what the show lacks in technical finesse, it more than makes up for with the energy and vivaciousness of its cast. Knowing that the rehearsal time was cut short because of the power outages affecting Montgomery College for the past two weeks, I am confident the cast and crew will continue to fine-tune the production as the show continues its July run.
This fine production of Hairspray ultimately reminded me why I love the theatre. While surely a transformative experience for the audience, the show also felt like a transformative experience for its young actors and actresses. When Tracy sings that “this is [her] dream,” you can’t help but hear Emily Reggia’s own ambition shine through. Reggia’s inspiring interpretation of “I Can Hear the Bells” midway through Act I convincingly brought the audience back to a place of youthful simplicity and optimism.
Other standout performances include Brian McDermott’s interpretation of Edna Turnblad, a spot-on performance that would make Harvey Fierstein of the original Broadway cast proud. William Kenyon was a fan-favorite in his role as Wilbur Turnblad, nailing the nuanced quirks in his character’s aberrant body movements. Kelly Craige lit up the stage as Penny Pingleton, believably portraying an awkward but lovable teenage-girl as she twitched and squirmed in syncopated steps about the stage. Kathryn Furtado’s rousing performance of “Miss Baltimore Crabs” as Velma Von Tussle made it difficult not to cheer for the villain. Ines Nassara’s spine-tingling vibrato as Motormouth Maybelle brought audiences to the edge of their seats in the ballad “I Know Where I’ve Been.” Like their characters, these young stars are too seizing their moment in the spotlight.
Behind the scenes, ‘Hairspray’ is a visually stunning show. The bright colors and sequined dresses by Costume Designer Peter Zakutansky perfectly capture the exuberance of the 1960’s. Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden’s shimmering scenic creations with Lynn Joslin’s clever lighting design transformed a fairly small stage into 1960’s Baltimore: taking us seamlessly from Tracy’s living room to a glamorous television set to a dreary jail cell and back without ever leaving our seats.
Hairspray at Montgomery College’s Summer Dinner Theatre is definitely worth checking out. Even if you have already seen the film adaptation, experiencing Hairspray live is a unique theatrical experience that transcends what can be experienced on the silver screen. And, with a dinner buffet staffed by the show’s cast and crew, Hairspray is the real deal for a fun mid-summer’s eve.
Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission.
Hairspray plays through July 29, 2012 at Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre in the Theatre Arts Building – 51 Mannakee Street, in Rockville, Maryland. For reservations, call the Box Office at (240) 567-7676.