HAIRSPRAY Delights at Upper Darby Summer Stage

by Walter Bender

Upper Darby Summer Stage presents the Mainstage production, HAIRSPRAY on August 3, 4, 10, 11 at Upper Darby Performing Arts Center. Left to right: Tiara Greene of Swarthmore as Motor Mouth Maybelle, Abby Shunskis of Upper Darby as Tracy Turnblad, Brooks Banker of Media as Edna Turnblad, and Sean Skahill of Springfield as Link Larkin. (PHOTO CREDIT: Cate R. Paxson)

Upper Darby Summer Stage, where young people from all over the Delaware Valley come together to create great theatre, has grown to become something very special. Friday August 3rd marked the debut of UDSS’s 2012 mainstage production, HAIRSPRAY. This musical adaptation of the John Waters movie has delighted audiences for years, and this rendition continues that tradition.

Co-directors Rachel and Marcus Stevens have assembled a very fine, talented cast. Headlining the principal characters is Abby Shunskis as Tracy Turnblad, and she is a delight. Always smiling, upbeat and full of boundless energy, Abby crafts a fine interpretation of Tracy, and has a beautiful voice to compliment her acting and dancing skills…and dance she does, moving constantly, fluidly, never missing a beat in the fun (but very difficult) choreography. Meghan Dietzler (Penny) is wonderful as the nerdy best friend, her facial expressions and movements funny and totally in character. Megan Smith (Amber) is terrific as the beautiful on the outside, ugly on the inside protagonist. Eyakeno Ekpo (Seaweed) is a very fluid and accomplished dancer, and plays his part extremely well.

Abby Shunskis of Upper Darby as Tracy Turnblad in a scene from Upper Darby Summer Stage’s delightful production of HAIRSPRAY.

Special note must be made of the young man playing Tracy’s mother, Edna. This homage to Divine, the famous drag queen who starred in many of John Waters’ movies, is a very difficult part to play. Many actors play the part as a parody, displaying a lack of knowledge of the history of the character and the actor who originated the role. The  Upper Darby production has a terrific young man playing the role, Brooks Banker. He portrays Edna perfectly, not self-conscious about the character at all, each nuance in tune with what a concerned mother/wife should be. He handles the “Edna suit” very well, and looks very comfortable wearing the extra padding. Congratulations to Banker for a terrific job.

The cast of HAIRSPRAY, running at Upper Darby Summer Stage through August 11.

Choreographer Robert Harris did a great job with this show…it’s very dance-heavy, and at no point did the choreography seem repetitive or boring. The cast is very well-schooled, every movement perfect and everyone moving together. The music, directed and orchestra conducted by Gina Giachero is wonderful, the orchestra a great backdrop to what is happening on stage, and the very large cast sounds great in the production numbers. The set, designed by Lindsey Mayer, is very functional, with many Laugh-In style cutouts to allow the chorus to pop up to backup the principals onstage.

Colorful costumes are just one of the highlights in Upper Darby Summer Stage’s HAIRSPRAY, running through August 11 in Drexel Hill, PA.

I mentioned several of the performances above, but do not have space to compliment each of these very skilled young actors. I was impressed with the skill and focus of everyone on stage. At no point did I see a loss of concentration, and everyone on stage worked together to paint a beautiful picture for the audience. While the entire cast is comprised of younger actors (a press release states that no one is older than 28, and many are younger) at no point did I feel that anyone was miscast. My only “complaint” is the program did not have cast bios…understandable given the huge cast, but disappointing, as I would like to know more about this very deeply talented cast. Great job everyone, and thanks for making my Friday evening very enjoyable.

This production has a very limited run…it closes next week on August 11. Make the time to go to Upper Darby to see this very tight and fun production. The Upper Darby Performing Arts Center seats over 1600, and from what I could see there’s not a bad seat in the house. Come see what a first-rate summer theatre program is capable of.

Members of the cast of Upper Darby Summer Stage’s HAIRSPRAY delight audiences with energetic performances.

Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Music by Mark Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Based on the New Line Cinema film written and directed by John Waters
Orchestrations by Harold Wheeler
Arrangements by Marc Shaiman
Directed by Rachel Stevens and Marcus Stevens
August 3, 4, 10, 11, 2012
Upper Darby Summer Stage
Upper Darby Performing Arts Center
601 N. Lansdowne Avenue
Drexel Hill, PA 19026

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