This high-energy production of one of America's most beloved musicals is a fun nod to pre-Beatles American rock ‘n’ roll.
“Hairspray” is in the air at The Players Centre for Performing Arts. It’s also on stage and pretty much everywhere. To be clear, we’re talking about the musical “Hairspray.” The hairspray in the aerosol cans is a product called “Fog in a Can.” Just a mist of harmless water that won’t stick to actors’ lungs.
The musical itself is a kinder, gentler, Tony Award-winning adaptation of John Waters’ 1988 movie. Events unfold in Baltimore in 1962. Rock ‘n’ roll is on television and protestors are marching in the street. The times they are a-changing …
Enter Tracy (Kyle Ann Lacertosa). She dreams of joining the teenage dance troupe on “The Corny Collins Show” — a Baltimore knock-off of “American Bandstand.” It’s an all-white shindig, apart from one “Negro Day” every month. Tracy doesn’t fit the Barbie doll mold, but she’s a great dancer. She gets the part — and two new dreams. Tracy wants to find true romance with Link Larkin (Noah Roderiques), the show’s hometown answer to Elvis. She also wants to make every day “Negro Day,” and integrate the African-American teens.
The cast reads like the Baltimore phone book. But here are just a few highlights:
Reprising her role in the Manatee Players’ production, Lacertosa’s Tracy is a human sunbeam with a high noon smile. If optimism was electricity, she could power the city of Baltimore for a year. In keeping with the show’s drag tradition, the always-hilarious Berry Ayers plays Tracy’s hefty mother — who dreams of launching her own line of full-figured fashion. Roderiques’ Link is a satiric nod to Elvis (and his many affordable imitators) in early 1960s television. Andrea Keddell and Belle Babcock are sidesplitting as a vicious mother-daughter team. As Seaweed, Derric Gobourne Jr. burns up the stage with dance moves worthy of James Brown at his funky best. He’s not the only great dancer on stage, but he still stands out.
It’s a fairly long show, but it never feels like it. There’s never a dull moment. Cory Boyas’ snappy direction never sags. He also marches to a different drummer. This doesn’t feel like the movie version of the musical — or any other version I’ve seen on stage. His choreography is equally original — not to mention aerobic. It’s quite a workout. The dancers must lose five pounds with every performance.
Tim Beltley’s period costumes evoke the saturated hues of the dawn of color TV. Michael Pasquini’ lighting reminds you that this is a show about a show. Alan Corey’s music direction honors the early ’60s vibe the songs are going for. (Speaking of which, the tunes are great. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman nicely capture the feel of pre-Beatles American rock ‘n’ roll.)
It’s a fun performance. And, yes, there’s a message behind the music. “Hairspray” is a bouncy parable of self-actualization in which the underdogs achieve their dreams. Life tends to be meaner. But wouldn’t it be groovy if it wasn’t?
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