Tuacahn's Hairspray is a solidly entertaining production of a Tony-award winning Broadway hit.
Hairspray (book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman) is a musical based on the 1988 film of the same name (and adapted into a musical film in 2007). Set in the early 1960s, it follows Tracy Turnblad, an overweight teenager with a big heart who first dreams of dancing on a local television show and then fights to integrate it.
There's no guessing as to why Joline Mujica (Tracy) has been traveling from regional theatre to regional theatre across the country playing the lead in Hairspray. She is made for the role-a wonderful combination of the spice of original Broadway Tracy, Marissa Jaret Winokur, and the nice of musical film Tracy, Nikki Blonsky, along with a heavy helping of fresh originality.
Paul C. Vogt (Edna) has also made the rounds playing the heroine's mother, first on Broadway, then in the sit-down Las Vegas production, and then in regional theatres throughout the U.S. He gives the character just the right amounts of sass and vulnerability and is a joy to watch.
Other standouts include Erika Amato (Velma) as Tracy's deliciously malevolent foil, Randy Aaron (Seaweed) as Tracy's smooth-talking friend from the other side of town, and Fran Jaye (Motormouth Maybelle) as Seaweed's mother, who has a big mouth and an even bigger soul. The ensemble is energetic and filled with great dancing and singing talent.
Tuacahn's production is well designed, staged, and choreographed for its outdoor amphitheatre. The opening number, "Good Morning, Baltimore," is impressive in its scale with a large number of performers, animatronic rats, a vintage car, and even a real school bus. It's unfortunate that, while still enjoyable, none of the later large-group numbers pack the same punch. (Why don't the vehicles return in any of the other street scenes?)
Rather than play it safe, director/choreographer Derryl Yeager makes some risky choices in his vision for the production. Some of them pay off, some fall flat, and others just don't work. His staging of "I Can Hear the Bells" is extremely engaging in its visual comedy, and the inclusion of a gospel bell choir is genius. However, his decision to rely on leashes for a good portion of "Mama I'm a Big Girl Now" is somewhat distracting and doesn't work as well as seemingly intended. While most characterizations are spot-on, a few of the actors seem to have been directed to play their roles much more over the top than the others (e.g., Noelle Marion as Penny), which makes the tone of the production uneven.
The most egregious lapse in judgment, though, is the inclusion and even prominence of offensively stereotyped characters in the ensemble at various moments in the show. The "special ed" students seen multiple times are portrayed as exceptionally stupid-so much so that they apparently don't know how to dress themselves (socks are worn over pant legs and shirt tails are poking through zippers). In addition, the "Welcome to the 60's" production number is filled with extremely thin dancers wearing cartoony fat suits and gobbling doughnuts. The comedy is seemingly meant to stem from a perception that fat people look silly dancing. These stereotypes are most shocking because they go so directly against the message of inclusion and breaking down barriers that this particular show espouses.
Despite a few missteps, Tuacahn's production of Hairspray is well performed and well produced. It is surely one of the best versions of the show you will see locally and is recommended.
Hairspray runs through October 20 at Tuacahn. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-746-9882 or visit www.tuacahn.org.
Photo Credit: Joline Mujica