A sold-out audience loudly expressed enthusiasm and appreciation during curtain calls at The Kelsey Theatre Friday night for the opening performance of HAIRSPRAY, the musical.
HAIRSPRAY, set in the early 1960’s is based on a John Waters’ film by the same name. It’s been nearly 10 years since HAIRSPRAY opened on Broadway, winning award after award including Tonys for Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Original Score, and many more.
HAIRSPRAY is about teenager Tracy Turnblad who wants desperately to be on the Corny Collins local teen dance TV show in Baltimore in 1962. Thwarted only temporarily by her mother who doesn’t want Tracy to be embarrassed because she is plump, and by the show’s producer who tells Tracy she is too short and too oversized to fill a vacated spot on the “Bandstand” type show, Tracy perseveres, nevertheless, winning over the host and the leading man of the show because she is both talented and determined.
However, Tracy also is color blind, so she finds friends of color who complement her abilities, helping to wrangle them onto the stage of the all-white Corny Collins show as Tracy attempts to open the prejudiced minds of others.
She sings, she dances, she is arrested, and she provokes a demonstration which lands her in jail.. (Remember, it’s Baltimore, below the Mason-Dixon line, in the early ‘60’s.)
The Kelsey does not disappoint in its performance of HAIRSPRAY produced by the MCCC Theatre and Dance Program and Entertainment Technology students. The cast of 32 includes 18 students, noted only by an asterisk at their names.
Non-student Kristen Kane plays with comfort and professionalism the leading role of Tracy Turnblad. Unfortunately, there are no bios in the program (a real omission, in our opinion) so I know nothing about her except that she can sing; she can project her voice, and she is a good actress who moves well. Perhaps she was pulled from a community theatre group. It would be nice to know more about her and the others.
Taylor Pickett Stokes deserves high commendation for her portrayal of Motormouth Maybelle. That gal can really sing and she does it with an attitude. Would that we might have understood her spoken lines as well as her songs and her interesting body language. A MCCC student, Stokes also is dance captain.
Others who deserve special mention for fine performances are students Tommy Thomas as smooth Seaweed J. Stubbs; Megan Sherow transforming from shy Penny Pingleton to a stronger, more confident person; Ben Menahem, looking crooning enticingly as the lead male singer Link Larkin, and Ethan Levy as brazen host Corny Collins.
Non-students to note are Vicky Wyman, playing producer, Velma von Tussle; Brian Bara as Tracy’s mother, “Edna;” and Tom Orr as Wilbur Turnblad, Tracy’s father. All showed their comfort and experience on stage.
Although a bit repetitious, the show’s toe-tapping music is infectious; the enthusiasm and energy of the cast is contagious and exhilarating. Everyone does well keeping high energy as they sing and dance.
A live orchestra in the loft was fine under the direction of Peter de Mets. It’s nearly always better when there are live musicians, but the volume often was a bit too loud for us at times where we were sitting in the third row on the right side, directly across from them.
If you have never seen HAIRSPRAY, it is worth a trip to the Kelsey to see this production. At the time of this writing, seats still are available for remaining performances.
Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Directed by Jeremy Robinson
April 13-22, 2012
Kelsey Theatre at Mercer County Community College
West Windsor, New Jersey