Hairspray: "Broadway's big fat musical comedy hit"
Overture Hall hosts a touring production of Hairspray (through Oct. 8), the campy, kitschy Broadway musical based on the John Waters film. The engaging show wraps thorny issues like segregation and interracial dating in a sparkly Technicolor package.
It opens as Tracy Turnblad, a pleasingly plump Baltimore teen (Brooklynn Pulver), literally pops out of bed and welcomes the day. She's a sassy go-getter with a big voice, big heart and even bigger hair. I'm probably not the first to describe Pulver as bubbly and irrepressible, but what really delighted me was her physicality and energy, whether attacking the zesty choreography or just bouncing up and down on her little feet, pumping her fists with glee.
Tracy and her gawky best friend, Penny Pingleton (Alyssa Malgeri), are obsessed with "The Corny Collins Show" (think "American Bandstand") and its good-looking stars. Tracy, besotted with teen star Link Larkin (Constantine Rousouli), jumps at the chance to audition for the show when one of the cast is due to disappear for a not-so-mysterious nine months. Poor Tracy is rudely received at the audition, where the snide mother-daughter team of Amber and Velma Van Tussle (Pearl Thomas and Happy McPartlin) try to squash her dreams. Plucky Tracy doesn't let the ruined audition get her down, partly because she bumps into Link and fantasizes of their future together as handbells chime in the charming "I Can Hear the Bells."
At high school, where the height of her teased hair has earned her yet another detention, Tracy hangs out with the other detainees, including Seaweed J. Stubbs (Christian White). Seaweed is a dancer on the monthly "Negro Day' edition of "The Corny Collins Show," where his mom, Motormouth Maybelle (the impressive Yvette Monique Clark), DJs. Seaweed teaches the eager Tracy some excellent new dance moves, including his signature Peyton Place After Midnight. At a sock hop, Tracy wows Corny Collins himself (Jarret Mallon) with her fierce footwork and earns the coveted spot on his show. Tracy then surprises everyone when she announces that she wishes every day was Negro Day on the show and questions why blacks and whites can't dance together. She's accused of being a Commie and a rabble-rouser, but that doesn't stop her from hatching a plan to integrate the show.
At home, Tracy's loving parents are amazed at Tracy's sudden fame. Mom Edna is played by Jerry O'Boyle, who has some big pumps to fill as audiences will certainly think of iconic Ednas before him like Divine and Harvey Fierstein. Not to worry -- O'Boyle brings his own hint of melancholy sweetness to the role. Appearing entirely comfortable in her ample skin, Edna is proud and protective of her scrappy daughter, and when she sings "You can't stop my happiness because I like the way I am," you really believe it. My favorite number was the lovely duet "(You're) Timeless to Me" between Edna and her kooky but supportive husband, Wilbur (Dan Ferretti). While tender and romantic, it contains the show's sauciest punchline and was a welcome break from the high-energy numbers that preceded it.
When the conductor exhorted the audience to clap along as the second act started, I surprised myself by actually doing it (I usually maintain a strict no-audience-participation stance because I am self-conscious and no fun), and when Pulver invited "Madison, Wisconsin" to dance along during the exuberant curtain call and appreciative standing ovation, I almost did, which says a lot about the cast's infectious energy, the immensely appealing songs, the clever sets and the perfect candy-colored costumes.