Tracy Turnblad reminds us that “You gotta think big to be big” as Bowie Community Theatre (“BCT”) delivered a big success with Hairspray JR. for their Youth Theatre Program’s first production. This shorter, more child-friendly version of the John Waters film, with book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, still keeps the beat going and can delight audiences with a big musical in a small space. Director Rebecca Kotraba was able to showcase massive talent in such petite performers, and their high energy and confidence made this a great show.
The show was produced by Ken Keinas, who is also the BCT President. His 30+ years of experience in community theater continue to deserve praise and attention. He took a show set in the 1960’s and made the issues within it relevant to a modern audience. Costumers Lakisha Mason and Micaiah Smith kept the clothing choices manageable and suitable for the wearer, with wigs only used when necessary.
The BCT performance space is inside of a church, which means it’s an intimate theater with limited seating, but this also means there were no issues with sound. Microphones weren’t used, and it contributed to my enjoyment of the show because it meant hearing the actors instead of malfunctioning microphones or speakers. The supporting and ensemble cast helped fill out the sounds for the big numbers, but the songs performed to the music track was the right fit and feel for this space.
From the first note of “Good Morning Baltimore,” Trinity Duggan, as Tracy Turnblad, belts out a sensational performance. The quality of her voice belies her years. It was a pleasure to hear someone singing with such a pure sound, as well as emoting beyond what one would expect from a high school freshman. Her talents paired well with 7th grade Andrew Wilson as Link Larkin, whose nicest kid in town persona matched the nicest sound of his singing.
If I hadn’t read it in the program, I wouldn’t have believed Liam Duggan makes his theatrical debut as Corny Collins. His stage presence and apparent ease on stage made him the perfect host for the teen dance show. Also memorable was the pint-sized Mr Pinky, played by first grader Joseph Bauer, who stole the scene with his on-point delivery and infectious smile.
The entire cast deserves credit for working well together and keeping up their energy and quality of performance even though their bedtimes were all before the show’s end. BCT’s Hairspray Jr. is a perfect demonstration of working well together, from the ease of set changes to the coordination of large dance numbers in the small space. I have never before enjoyed “The Big Dollhouse” number, and finally was able to understand the importance of it and laugh at the humor in the scenes from this setting.
Kudos also to choreographer Anwar Thomas, who designed dance moves appropriate for children to handle but not so complicated as to leave them winded or frustrated. The kids kept moving and kept grooving, and always looked as though they enjoyed the dance and that it came from an authentic place within them.
I should also disclose that I was not alone in writing this review. My five and seven year-old daughters remained transfixed from the moment the lights went down until the very end. And while I wasn’t expecting them to break out and sing “Momma, I’m a Big Girl Now” when I told them to get in the car at the end of the evening, it was rather a nice tribute to the importance of arts at any age. Now “Run and Tell That” to your friends, and buy your tickets to this family-friendly performance of Hairspray JR.
Running Time: 80 minutes, with a 10-minute intermission.
Sharon Preator has been involved in community theatre on-and-off since the early 1990s. She holds a BA in Theatre Arts from Virginia Tech. She has performed in local productions of The Vagina Monologues at the Creative Alliance, Children of Eden at Greenbelt Arts Center. She was nominated for a TOPPER award (Best Supporting Actress) while living and performing overseas. She devotes most of her theatre energy now to West Arundel Creative Arts initiatives as a parent volunteer, and regularly attends local productions with her children or Broadway shows on Mommy-only days.