'Hairspray' review: Energetic cast breathe new and timely life into musical classic
Courtesy of Broadway in Detroit
Good morning Detroit! Er, I mean Baltimore, the pristine 1962 setting for “Hairspray” the lively and reinvisioned musical theater staple that’s finally, after numerous pandemic related shutdowns, made its second (ever) professional stop in the Motor City and it doesn’t disappoint. Based on the 1988 John Waters cult classic which eventually got reamde in 2007 by Adam Shankman after a successful run on Broadway, the current national tour of “Hairspray” is easily some of the most fun I’ve had in a live setting since the slow and steady return of Broadway began early this year. The key ingredients? A timely, social justice message which feels more culturally relevant today than it ever has and a roster of incredibly talented performers who seem to relish the opportunity to sing and dance for an audience each night. During the rousing curtain call, you could sense the camaraderie and chemistry the ensemble shared together and when a company stays in sync on this level, the possibilities are endless. There’s not a single actor in this show that didn’t understand the assignment.
Yes, “Hairspray” has been around for a long time, produced in local high schools and community theaters and aside from a lyrical tweak or two (and a fun jab at the 2020 election cycle), Matt Lenz current tour maintains the shows jubilant and free-flowing energy. As usual, we follow the misadventures of Tracy Turnblad (a wonderful, always smiling and infectious Faith Northcutt who made her debut last night understudying for Niki Metcalf) and her quest to stardom by nabbing a coveted spot on the elusive ultra popular after-school program: The Corny Collins show where anybody who is anybody becomes a cast member. But Tracy has more on her mind than just making an impact on television ratings, she’s got a warm center and wants to begin the fight for integration (it is the sixties where segregation still exists). She’s also a bit on the heavier side which makes her an easy target for the bullies and pulpits at school. Through it all, Tracy keeps a smile on her face despite pleas from her mom, Edna (Andrew Levitt - aka Nina West from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”) to keep expectations in check. It doesn’t stop Tracy from chasing those ambitions and “Hearing the Bells” whenever the wholesome and inexplicably charming Link Larkin (Will Savarse) struts in her nearby peripherals.
If that’s not enough, Tracey’s journey leads down a righteous path that connects her with some incredible characters and personalities fans of the show will be ecstatic to see again: Brandon G. Stalling’s agile and smooth Seaweed brought down the house during “Run and Tell That;” Toneisha Harris, playing Motormouth Maybelle, stunning rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been” had the audience inside the packed Fisher Theater on their feet; Addison Garner’s Velma Von Tussle brings the appropriate amount of slimy villainous; Emery Henderson’s plucky and booksmart Penny Pingleton is having a ball; not to mention Billy Dawson’s Corny Collins has the juice and heft necessary to keep his scenes moving alongside Kalea Leverette’s bubbly Little Inez and Christopher Swan’s jokester Wilbur Turnblad. Also a major shout-out to Emmanuelle Zessman who steps into a variety of different character roles throughout the show from weird gym teacher to Penny’s deranged mother and a seemingly loony security guard. While these are small roles with minimal stage time, they’re impact is felt because Zessman breathes life into them. Again, nobody is phoning it in.
The score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman remains a toe-tapping delight, further reminding audiences why it was such a mega force during the 2003 Tony Awards. But, in the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests, and social political turmoil as of late, “Hairspray” feels like an answer of positivity coming out of those dark moments even though it was created decades ago. Like Wilbur and Edna singing “You’re Timeless To Me” (which, by the way, Swan and Levitt are near flawless) “Hairspray” has stood its own test of time. The current tour looks incredible and pops with vibrant colors, slick projections as well as William Ivey Long’s impeccable costumes and Jerry Mitchell’s taut choreography which netted him a Tony back in 2003. You should run and tell all your friends to purchase these tickets while they’re hot.
*This review brought to you by Ultra Clutch Hairspray*
HAIRSPRAY continues at The Fisher Theater in Detroit through January 30th. Tickets can be purchased via Ticketmaster.