Hairspray puts the Community in Community Theater!

I think I’ve been to Spanish Fork twice in my life.  The first time was about a year ago to review Wizard of Oz with the Spanish Fork Youtheater.  Tonight, I returned to the same high school to review Hairspray with the Spanish Fork Community Theater (SFCT).

Above anything else, these people know how to put the “Community” in Community Theater.  In both cases, I was surprised that they not only nearly sold out a several hundred-seat theater, but it feels like everyone in the community is actually involved.  From the ticket takers, to the snack sellers, to the older gentleman sitting by himself across the isle having the time of his life – this community theater production embodies community.

A perfect example of this: Nicest Kids In Town is the name of a song in the production.  SFCT took this to heart and held a contest to find the 7 “Nicest Kids In Town.”   They reviewed nominations and recommendations and selected 7 kids (1 for each performance) to honor.  At the beginning of the show tonight, they brought up 1 girl and told us all why she was selected and then offered her an award certificate.

What’s even more is that the show was really good.  Hairspray is the story of a young girl who doesn’t let the fact that she doesn’t fit the “normal” mold hold her back.   She sets out in life believing that she can be whatever she wants. In addition, she doesn’t see the problem with others getting what they want either.   Set in 1962, with the civil rights movement on the rise but segregation still prevalent, she fights for what she believes is right.

This is a fairly serious topic but a completely fun and corny musical.  So who better to stand out as a star performer in the show than Corny Collins played by Trevor Brackney.  Playing “Corny” can come across so….well, corny.  Brackney was absolutely over the top, but at the same time he brought some real humanity to this character.  I’ve never cared for this role, but tonight, he was my favorite and I truly treasured every moment he was on stage.

I’m not sure how I felt knowing (thanks to the program) that Tracy’s parents  Edna Turnblad (made famous by John Travolta and played by Adam Keele tonight) and Wilbur Turnblad (Mark Keele) were real life father and son.  However, the audience seemed to have great fun with the relationship and while Timeless to Me left me shaking my head, I was chuckling.

And last, but certainly not least, Kat Stoutsenberger (Tracy Turnblad) and Hayden Gillies (Link Larkin) were so much fun. I worried a little as Kat’s opening number felt reserved and detached but she grew on me.  She ended up with the positive, optimistic, energetic attitude that we all expect and love with Tracy.  And after reading 15 year old Hayden’s bio and learning his mom had a hard time with the fact that he not only kisses a 19 year old but a 21 year old as well – I couldn’t help but love him.   They were both so much fun and brought a lot of great energy and chemistry to the show.

I’m sad to say that I didn’t connect with the character of Edna Turnblad.  With such legends to follow (John Travolta and Harvey Fierstein), playing the role must be difficult. I understand the choice of being reserved and shy, but always staring at the ground and clasping the hands in front of the body placed a barrier between the character and me.  I couldn’t ever break through the shyness, thus I was never able to connect and care for her plight.

I thought the staging and direction (Adam  Cannon) was great.  I loved how even the smaller characters rarely just stood to the side; they all seemed to have a personality.  I can’t imagine how difficult it would’ve been to choreograph all these people but Bethany Taylor pulled it off.  Everyone was pretty much together and it flowed very well. I’m also a sucker for smooth scene transitions and the efforts put into this (as well as the pre-show and intermission entertainment) paid off.  The lighting and costumes were awesome.

The audio was not so good.  One goes to the theater to lose themselves in the magic of a story.  Nothing jolts you back to reality faster than a mic going in and out or static so distracting that you can’t hear what’s being said. I was on the 7th row and struggled hearing at times, I’m sure people in the back missed quite a bit of the performance.  I can often look past poor acting (which there was a little of tonight) or not so perfect pitch (some of this too), but if I can’t hear what’s being said or sung, then there’s a no point.  I really hope they were just having problems tonight and this isn’t standard.

Overall, I bought it!  I had a great time and the energy of the audience lent a great deal to my enjoyment.  The show only plays Friday and Saturday night at Spanish Fork High School ($8  for an adult ticket)  and I hope you get the chance to see it.  I for one will make a future trek from SL to see more Community Theater from Spanish Fork because they know how to do it right.

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