If you like big and beautiful Broadway musicals with colorful costumes and sets, and a double-dose of talented performers, Our Lady of Good Counsel High School’s production of the Tony-award-winning musical Hairspray definitely fills the bill. This show features music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, and book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, and is based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name.
Kristina Friedgen skillfully directs a wonderful cast of high school students who, from the leads to the featured players to the ensemble, exhibit a professional flair. Their singing, dancing, and comedy are impressive and entertaining and we felt that they were having as much fun on stage as we were having in the audience!
The story takes place in 1962 Baltimore when racial segregation was rampant, and the main character is Tracy Turnblad, an overweight, not particularly popular, teenage girl who loves to dance. The remarkable Molly Boyle does an outstanding job in this pivotal role, demonstrating Tracy’s courage and willingness to fight for racial integration, while longing for romance and the ability to fit in with the other kids. Some adults refer to Tracy as a “hair-hopper” because she likes to tease her hair as high as possible. In fact, she was given detention at school because her hair was sprayed and teased so high that students sitting behind her couldn’t see the blackboard.
Still, Tracy is optimistic as she greets a new day by confidently singing “Good Morning, Baltimore.” Her best friend is Penny Pingleton played by the irrepressible Francesca Rowe. As the play progresses, Penny discovers her own love of dancing and her own search for romance. The girls rush home each day to watch a teenage dance party show on television, wishing they could be a part of it. Tracy is saddened by the fact that only white kids are permitted on the show most of the time. Once a month the show features “Negro Day” when only black kids are allowed to dance, but Tracy believes that all kids of every race should be dancing on the same show together.
Tracy is a talented dancer and is thrilled when an opportunity comes along to audition to become one of the dancers on the show. However, her mother is concerned that the other kids will make fun of her plus-size daughter. Tracy’s father, on the other hand, encourages her to follow her dreams and go out and get what she wants. Tracy is successful in getting on the show, but her success turns to failure in her fight for racial integration, as she and her followers are arrested.
The kids portraying kids are wonderfully talented, and the students who play adult roles are extremely impressive. A showstopper comes when two high school students turn in bravura performances playing Tracy’s parents. The talented comedian Adam Russell portrays the jokester Wilbur Turnblad and Cosette Rosales is superb as the queen-sized Edna Turnblad. Typically, the character of Edna Turnblad is played by a male actor, but Rosales does a fine job in the role. Together Russell and Rosales demonstrate that middle-aged parents can be just as romantic as the young people, as they sing and dance flawlessly to the challenging number, “You’re Timeless to Me.”
Another adult role is Corny Collins, host of the dance party television show. The movie-star handsome Ken Yotsukura plays the slick and unctuous Collins, while demonstrating a heart of gold and a social conscience as he supports Tracy in her fight for integration.
The golden-haired Motormouth Maybelle, the host of Negro Day, is beautifully played by the soulful Mia Sterbini. She tries to teach a lesson to kids and adults alike that they should never give up on doing the right thing and respecting other people, regardless of race, gender, size, income–or hairstyle—as she sings the sassy “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful” and the bluesy “I Know Where I’ve Been.”
A less sympathetic adult character is Velma Von Tussle, the producer of the dance party show. Alison Jackson shines in the role of a woman who is self-centered and bigoted and doesn’t understand that time marches on and she can’t rest on her laurels as “Miss Baltimore Crabs.” She is teaching her daughter, Amber, (Hana Jones) to be as shallow and nasty as she is.
When love comes to the young people, Tracy sings the romantic “I Can Hear the Bells,” as she dreams about marrying the local heartthrob Link Larkin (Andrew Lehnus). Meanwhile, Penny falls in love with her African-American classmate Seaweed, who is also a brilliant dancer.
Malachi Floyd plays the role with polish and panache.
Kudos to Music Director Richard Slocum, his talented 10-piece orchestra, Kristina Friedgen’s and Maxwell Miller’s sizzling choreography, and Gina Sinha’s colorful sets as the entire cast joins in “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” a larger-than-life production number with a driving rhythm that brings the house down.
Our Lady of Good Counsel High School’s production of Hairspray is a thoroughly entertaining, feel-good musical with a subtle social message that still rings true today. Who could ask for more?
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one 20-minute intermission.
Hairspray ended its run March 28, 2015 at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, performing at Sandy Spring Friends School – 16923 Norwood Road in Sandy Spring, Maryland. For further information on Our Lady of Good Counsel High School’s theatre program, please visit their website.