Review: Hairspray – Midvale Main Street Theatre

Based on the classic John Waters film that gave us Ricky Lake and brought Divine out of the nightclubs and onto the screen, this fun and lively musical gives us a snapshot of the early 60s and the racial intolerance that demanded social change. In this case, it centers around young Tracy Turnblad’s love for a local dance show, “The Corney Collins Show” that features a quorum of dancers and does a “Negro day” performance one day a month, featuring a DJ called Motormouth Maybelle (played by Leah Jacobs).

Tracy (played by Kat Stoutsenberger) is an overweight teen caught up in the music and the fashions of the early 1960s, including, as the show is titled, layering her hair with hairspray. She tries out for the Collins’ show, where she is met with sneers from the female dancers and their mother hen, the show’s producer, Velma Von Tussle (played by Sara McDonald), who reject Tracy for her weight and another girl for her race.

Tracy’s hair-do (and more liberal attitudes) land her in detention, where she meets Motormouth Maybelle’s son, Seaweed (played by Henna Heimuli). He shows her a few dance steps and she is able to use these moves to impress Corney Collins (played by Richard Johnson), who is hosting a sophomore dance, and becomes one of the dancers on the show. From there, that’s where the fun begins…

I know what you’re thinking… “ANOTHER production of Hairspray this year?” Yes, many have done it this season. From community theatre companies to high schools. It’s on the verge of being over done. However, this is definitely not the case of “you’ve seen one production of Hairspray, you’ve seen them all.” No. What director Tammy Ross creates with the Main Street Theatre’s production is a fun and original show, featuring some absolutely beautiful performances.

Like with Draper Historic, the Grove Theatre, Springville Playhouse, and the original Stage Right, the Main Street Theatre was once Midvale’s movie theater, and Ross makes use of the ever-present movie screen with projected images to give us the streets of Baltimore, the exterior of the high school, and even the Turnblad’s living room.

The two nits I have about this choice are first, the image being projected onto the performer, like in the opening number, “Good Morning Baltimore”, where the lights are kept low to isolate Tracy. A follow spot might have corrected this, though you have to get the angle just right in that case, otherwise you wind up putting the light onto the screen. My other nit was how slow the screen was to raise up and down, but that’s just the way it is with those motors, they have to move slow to avoid creasing the screen.

Also, if you can avoid being like the audience I saw this production with, and NOT show up right at 7PM, you’ll be treated to a projected 1960s retrospective.

Hands down what made this show great and what definitely entertained the capacity audience were the rock-solid performances of the principle characters.  Even a jaded theatre veteran like myself found I was getting caught up in the story and was dazzled by the performances. The ones to watch in this show are:

Kat Stoutenberger, who lights up the stage as Tracy, particularly in her musical numbers. She’s cute as a button and makes you believe every moment.

Cassidy Ross, who gives a hilarious and delightful performance as Tracy’s best friend, Penny Pinkleton. Her facial expressions in “I Hear the Bells” are priceless.

Russ McBride as Edna Turnblad, gives an amazing drag performance that definitely outshines John Travolta’s performance as Edna (from the recently filmed version of the musical), and even gives Divine (Edna from the Waters film) a run for her money.

Henna Heimuli as Seaweed Stubbs. OK, so he isn’t really African-American, but it works. He’s both hilarious and charismatic in his performance, and his chemistry with Ross’ Penny is sweet.

Last, but by FAR least, is Leah Jacobs’ performance as Motormouth Maybelle. She lacked some of the animated confidence in her acting that we usually see with other Maybelles (particularly Queen Latifah in the recent film), but she MORE than makes up for that in her rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been.” It brought tears to my eyes.

The show was plagued by a technical issue that was partly the audience’s fault. The wireless microphones were cutting in and out. How was this partly the audience’s fault? Cell phones. YES! Cell phones! Why do the airlines ask you to turn off your cell phones on a flight? Because they interfere with their instruments, particularly the radio. When you have a full house, and everyone just silences their cell phones but doesn’t turn them off, all the texts, calls, and other updates your phones receive interfere with the mics. And to the lady sitting next to me, was it really that important to check your phone every five minutes? C’mon folks, we go to the theatre and the cinema to relax and escape, please do yourself and the rest of us a favor… turn your phones off.

Hairspray at the Main Street Theatre. Remaining performances  January 27, 28, 29 at 7:00 p.m., with a matinee performance on January 29 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $15 at the door, or $12 by clicking the advertisement on the right of this page.

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