Welcome to the Sixties, Baltimore style! Grab your neon-colored shirts and Madison down to T. S. Wootton High School Center for the Arts’ production of Hairspray, energetically directed by Jessica Speck. The lively group of some 150 students, including actors, musicians and crew, bring this fun-loving and surprisingly timely show to this vast performance space effectively and with just enough pluck to leave audiences bopping down the aisles with the closing notes.
The musical Hairspray, which is about a teenager Tracy Turnblad’s mission to end segregation on the popular T.V. segment The Corny Collins Show while getting the guy of her dreams was inspired by the 1988 John Waters film and written by Mark O’Donnell (Cry-Baby) and Thomas Meehan (Annie and The Producers). The music is by Marc Shaiman, with Lyrics by Mr. Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Catch Me If You Can). In 2003, it earned twelve Tony nominations and won eight, including Best Musical and Best Score.
Any review of a production set in this auditorium must begin with highlighting the overarching production elements and Wootton’s students, strongly supported by professionals and community volunteers who rose to the occasion. The tone is set by the quirky and colorful set by professional Designer J. Branson. The pieces evoked Tracy’s wide-eyed view of a multi-colored and off-center Baltimore ranging from eccentric row houses to the dreamy stage of the Corney Collins show, to high school corridors and tiny apartments.
Lighting, under the able hand of Wootton senior, Robert Adkins, contributed to the rainbow-like theme and helped compartmentalize the stage when necessary for smaller scene work. The icing on this very vibrant cake was the wonderful, period costumes designed by Flo Arnold, undoubtedly requiring a team of seamstresses and tailors to clothe this large cast. The planning thoroughness of the costume plot, including numerous changes for many characters, was truly impressive … especially in an area that is often short-changed at the high school level.
The student orchestra performed superbly under the baton of Carolyn Herman, maintaining the show’s pulse and energy without overpowering the voices. Wootton High School recently invested in a new sound system to adequately manage the challenges of this space and there was some evidence that the team is still working through some of its intricacies. With a week ahead to fine tune, there is confidence that the second weekend issues will be resolved.
All productions of Hairspray live and breathe on the success of its primary players and these groups of high schoolers were up to the task. The show was anchored by the terrific trio of teens Corrieanne Stein, Jackie Kempa, and Julia Franzeres. Stein, the experienced, Equity actress and a Wootton senior, brought vocal strength and solid characterizations providing a sense of the infectious naïve optimism so crucial to the role of Tracy Turnblad. Franzeres, playing her sidekick and partner-in-crime, Penny, was extremely well played. With wonderful mannerisms of the supportive and cautiously daring friend, blossoming into the young woman in the final scenes was a small study in character development. Jackie Kemps, the final component in this impressive trio, brought out the pouty brat and mean girl qualities essential for the role of Amber. The performances of these two final actresses were especially impressive given that they are sophomores. Wootton is fortunate to have these up -and-coming young ladies for several more years.
Joining this impressive core, the gentleman, with one appearing as a woman, did their share in contributing to the evening’s success. Junior Wyatt Oring, appearing as the dreamy Link Larkin, simultaneously provided the heartthrob appeal and ‘nicest kid in town’ balance that made Tracy, and many in the audience, fall for him. Jeffrey Morse, in his seventh and final Wootton production, took on the challenging role of Edna Turnblad and nicely filled the role giving Edna of sense of realism void of cartoonish characterizations. Choosing to underplay what many might use as overt laugh lines contributed to the genuine portrayal of this lovable. character Alex Millstone played Wilbur, her loyal and dedicated spouse. Their affectionate duet “(You’re) Timeless to Me” garnered a lot of applause and laughs.
Especially noteworthy support came from Graysen Bright, appearing as Little Inez and Aaliyah Dixon as Motormouth Maybelle. In just a few short appearances, Bright grabbed the audience’s attention with her voice and impressive stage presence. Dixon, appearing in her final Wootton show brought the audience to thunderous applause with the moving piece, “I Know Where I’ve Been.”
Perhaps most impressive aspect among the many additional characters on stage was the sheer size and integrity of the numerous ensembles that filled the stage. Ranging from the Corney Collins Council, which saw some strong dance from both guys and gals, to the detention students, Mr. Pinky’s store clerks to the mothers/daughters pairs, the ensembles filled the stage both physically as well as emotionally providing the underlying cadence of this production. Kudos to Choreographers Debbie Clark (DC Dance Company) and Nancy Newell (American Dance Institute), and their student Dance Captain Anna Bartels-Newton, for managing the massive task of moving these large ensembles effectively and, by and large, in sync.
Wootton’s Hairspray is a well-quaffed beehive of a production that you won’t want to miss.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Hairspray plays at Thomas S. Wootton High School – 2100 Wootton Parkway, in Rockville, Maryland. Remaining performances are Friday, April 4th and Saturday, April 5th at 7:30 PM, and on Sunday, April 6th at 2 PM. Call (301) 279-8589 to purchase tickets, or purchase them online.
150 Students Involved in Wootton High School’s Production of ‘Hairspray’ Which Opens Tonight and Runs 3/28-30 & 4/4-6.
The videos below were made by Jake Land