Every hair is in place for Wheelock Family Theatre’s raucous, outrageous HAIRSPRAY (playing through Feb. 23rd). I must admit, I wondered if HAIRSPRAY was really family fare but the children in the audience giggled nonstop at the goofiness on stage and swayed deliriously with the high energy choreography (Laurel Conrad’s ingenious take on the twisting, flailing gyrations we called ‘dancing’ in the ‘50s and ‘60s). And John Waters’ famous naughty double entendres went right over their heads!
What comes through loud and clear in director Susan Kosoff’s charming production is that the strength and support of your family (no matter what the configuration) will see you through. Not to mention Waters’ message that you can be whatever you want to be. (The O’Donnell/Meehan/Shaiman musical happily remains faithful to the Waters movie.)
The deck is stacked against Tracy Turnblad (Jenna Lea Scott). She dreams about dancing on Baltimore’s version of American Bandstand but the teenagers they choose are thin and “cool” (not to mention lily white) and Tracy’s a “cute, big girl.” Although Waters’ version of the struggle for integration is mighty simplistic, it has at its core an honest message AND of course, it has the drag role created by Divine!
Robert Saoud is a sensation as Edna Turnblad, oh so modestly protesting, then finally consenting to dance…and you know s/he can cut a rug. So can Scott and we are overjoyed when Baltimore discovers it, too. Even more joy when she gets the boy (Michael Notardonato) and she gets the TV show to integrate!
Mark Linehan is a hoot as the self centered, head bopping, “stricken chicken” dancing “Corny” host of the television show. Kevin Fennessy, too, is hilarious in several roles but especially as the deer-in-the-headlights sponsor of the show. Aimee Doherty makes a wonderful villain (hysterically funny in her signature song, punctuated with “crab hands”). Peter A. Carey and Saoud have a delicious duet (You’re Timeless to Me) and character actresses Jane Staab and Cheryl McMahon get to strut their comic stuff.
The sweetest, melt your heart couple in HAIRSPRAY, though, is Jennifer Beth Glick and Jon Allen. Glick plays Tracy’s painfully shy best friend and Allen is Tracy’s pal from after school detention…who just happens to have the best moves on the dance floor and teaches them to Tracy. And Allen has one of the best songs in the show. (Run and Tell That: “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice” song)
Gamalia Pharms has one of the other ones, the powerful I Know Where I’ve Been. And she gets to deliver the sagest bit of wisdom in the show to the young, mixed-race couple: “Brace yourself for a whole lota ugly from a long line of stupid.” Of course, the best, foot stomping, hand clapping number (thanks in part to Matthew Stern’s sizzling orchestra) is the unstoppable finale, You Can’t Stop the Beat. Don’t miss out.