Review: ‘Hairspray’ at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

Turning up the summer sizzle with a whirlwind of big hair, bright colors and dance-fueling music, Baltimore’s iconic, Tony Award-winning musical Hairspray returns to Toby’s Dinner Theatre with renewed energy and spark, showcasing a plethora of perfectly choreographed routines and powerful vocal performances all while tackling still timely issues of racial and socio-economic discrimination.

The cast of 'Hairspray. Photo by Jeri Tidwell.
The cast of ‘Hairspray. Photo by Jeri Tidwell.

Like the 1988 John Waters’ film on which it is based, the cleverly-adapted production (written by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan) is set in 1962 and centers around dance-driven, but heavy-set, 15-year-old Tracy Turnblad’s (Christie Graham) aspirations to dance on The Corny Collins Show, a teen dance program broadcast on a Baltimore TV station in the early 1960s.  Once Tracy achieves her dream of being a dancer on the show, she immediately sets her sights on another: to racially integrate Collin’s dance-a-thon.

Astutely directed and choreographed by Mark Minnick, with excellent musical direction by Ross Scott Rawlings, the entire cast, led by go-getter Tracy (effervescently portrayed by Graham), is terrific and appears to be having the best time.  The cohesiveness of the talented ensemble readily translated on stage to vibrant performances throughout.

Edna (Laurence B. Munsey) and Tracy Turnblad (Christie Graham). Photo by Jeri Tidwell.
Edna (Lawrence B. Munsey) and Tracy Turnblad (Christie Graham). Photo by Jeri Tidwell.

More notably, Lawrence B. Munsey, as Tracy’s protective mother, Edna, maintained the right balance of warmth, honesty, humor and gravel-voiced gusto in his role, as he changed from frumpy house attire to a series of sequin and fabulously floaty outfits, which he designed (with assistance from Mary Quinn). He and Graham knocked the roof off with “Welcome to the 60s.”

Act Two’s performance, featuring Munsey’s charmed partnership with David James as Tracy’s father, Wilbur Turnblad, in their show-stopping “Timeless to Me” highlighted Munsey’s wide-reaching comical appeal, which garnered uproarious belly laughs.

Likewise, Kelli Blackwell, in a kudzu-ized blonde wig, is sensational as Motormouth Maybelle, particularly when she launches into her soulful, up-from-oppression anthem, “I Know Where I’ve Been,” which features her vigorous vocal range.

Kelli Blackwell (Motormouth Maybelle). Photo by Jeri Tidwell.
Kelli Blackwell (Motormouth Maybelle). Photo by Jeri Tidwell.

Rounding out the many memorable performances are those by Jeffrey Shankle (Corny Collins), Justin Calhoun (Link Larkin), Sophie Schulman (Penny Pingleton), and Andre Hinds (Seaweed J. Stubbs). Renata Hammond, Ashley Johnson, and Samantha McEwen render radiating vocalism as The Dynamites.

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Luminously upbeat and incredibly entertaining, Toby’s production of Hairspray is a heart-massaging, larger-than-life, feel-good, confectionary musical that seamlessly addresses hard-hitting issues and sobering undertones through toe-tapping tunes and bustling choreography that resonates home.

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Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, including a 25-minute intermission.

Hairspray plays through September 4, 2016 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia— 5900 Symphony Woods Road, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call (301) 596-6161,, or purchase them online.

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