Note: This production was originally reviewed at the Hamilton Family Theatre in Cambridge. It is now on stage at the King’s Wharf Theatre, Penetanguishene, August 9 to September 1.
Last year on TV, I heard a Trump supporter yelling the slogan “Make America Great Again”, and a reporter asking him “When was America great?”. “In the sixties,” was the reply.
As they say in the musical Hairspray, “Welcome to the sixties!” While this musical has great fun transporting us back to 1962, it also shows us what was not so great. We get a good look at the viciousness of racism and the ugliness of segregation. Yet it’s examined through a lens of hope and change, together with lots of singing and dancing to give the audience optimism. I really hope that optimism can still be found, more than 50 years later.
That’s what makes Hairspray, now on stage at the newly named Hamilton Family Theatre in Cambridge, a great show. It clearly points out the problems, but gives us hope with a lot of fun along the way. It skewers racism and slams body-image bullying, while poking fun at the foibles of the sixties, such as big hair. At the same time, the audience enjoys lots of singing and dancing and laughs.
Tracy Turnblad is a chubby, charming teenager, who wants to dance on a TV show similar to Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. Because of her big hair blocking sightlines in the classroom, she is sent to detention, where the Afro-American students teach her to dance. Despite her plus size, she earns her way onto the daily TV show. She’s appalled that Negroes are only allowed on the show once a month on a separate Negro Day, and it becomes her goal to make every day Negro Day. She bands together with her classmates to end segregation in Baltimore. Along the way, we meet a myriad of interesting, loveable and funny characters.
This production is well polished, thanks to an experienced cast. Several cast members were in the original Toronto production in 2004, and some were in Drayton’s production in 2011 which played at Huron Country Playhouse.
Stephanie Pitsiladis, who has appeared in many productions of Hairspray, is a perfect Tracy – her heart is as big as her hair, and she brings full energy to the role, singing and dancing her way through the entire show. It’s a huge part, influencing the entire show, and she carries it expertly.
David Cotton is back at Drayton as Tracy’s romantic interest, the popular Link Larkin. Cotton is a favourite Drayton leading man, charming the audience with his smooth voice and sexy moves.
Following the Hairspray tradition of having a man play Tracy’s mother, Wade Lynch is excellent as Edna Turnblad. Lynch has hard acts to follow: other men have been excellent Ednas — Harvey Fierstein on Broadway, John Travolta in the movie, and George Wendt at Charlottetown Festival. Larry Mannell reprises his role as Wilbur, Edna’s loving husband. Lynch and Mannell have great chemistry together, and their heartwarming song and dance, “You’re Timeless To Me” paints the picture of a couple who have been long time lovers. The fact that they broke each other up on opening night and had to backtrack to find their places, only made them more endearing.
Laura Mae Nason is a hilarious Penny, while Jeremy Carver-James is a charismatic Seaweed. Jackie Mustakas, as the evil producer Velma Von Tussle, and Chelsea Preston, as the equally nasty Amber, are the perfect mother-daughter team. Keisha T. Fraser is well cast as Motormouth Maybelle. Her rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been” is powerful and heartfelt, especially with back up from Little Inez, played by Hailey Lewis. Lewis’s voice and dance moves make her an exceptional Inez. There are no disappointments in this cast, as they all offer great singing, dancing and comedy. Credit goes to Director David Connolly for this lively production.
Like Edna and Wilbur’s love, the message in Hairspray is timeless. Unfortunately, in 2018 more than ever, we need to be reminded of the evils of racism. A big girl with big hair can lead the way!
Hairspray continues with eight shows a week until April 8 at the Hamilton Family Theatre, Cambridge. Tickets are available by calling Toll Free 1-855-372-9866 or Local Box Office 519-747-7788 or check www.draytonentertainment.com
Photo: Justin Stadnyk as Corny Collins and Stephanie Pitsiladis as Tracy Turnblad and Company in Hairspray. Photo by Liisa Steinwedel
To see a video of this production, click here.
Hairspray – 2018
Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Based on the film by John Waters
Directed and choreographed by David Connolly
Musical Direction by Steve Lavoie
Performed by Stephanie Pitsiladis, David Cotton, Wade Lynch, Larry Mannell, Laura Mae Nason, Jeremy Carver-James, Jackie Mustakas, Chelsea Preston, Keisha T. Fraser, Hailey Lewis, Charlotte Moore, Gerrad Everard, Justin Stadnyk, Catarina Ciccone, Vanessa Cobham, Tiffany Deriveau, Sam DiGiuseppe, Malcolm, Messado Fletcher, George McLeary, Antonette Rudder, Chris Scott, Sarah Vance, Robin Warwick, Jesse Weafer.
Produced by Drayton Entertainment
Hamilton Family Theatre, Cambridge
March 14 to April 8, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson