Adapting a fun film like John Waters' 1988 sleeper hit Hairspray into a musical would seem like an obvious formula for success. The original Broadway production won eight Tony awards and ran for seven years. The production at Le Petit Theatre, directed by Ricky Graham, captures the irrepressibly upbeat spirit of its main character, Tracy Turnblad, and a very large cast delivers a lively show. The plump Baltimore teen loves dancing and primping her hair into a big 'do, and nothing about her lack of popularity at school or frequent visits to detention keeps her from dreaming about appearing on The Corny Collins Show and landing its teen heartthrob Link Larkin.
Even for a musical, however, it's so upbeat that the issue of integration often seems like a trifling detail, underplaying a prime source of drama. There are many big, joyous dance numbers ("You Can't Stop the Beat"). As Tracy, Dianna Duffy is charismatic, and A.J. Allegra shines as the perma-smiled Corny Collins. Lloyd Meekins is funny as the swivel-hipped Seaweed.
The issue of early 1960s integration, however, takes a backseat to the nepotism of Corny Collins Show producer Velma Von Tussle trying to make sure her daughter Amber wins the show's talent contest. Collins' show has one day a month in which black teens are allowed to dance on TV, but even he finds segregation to be an arcane bore. Kesha McKey (Motormouth Maybelle), however, brings down the house with the best song in the show, "I Know Where I've Been," which is about enduring and prevailing over discrimination.
Transgression is what drives the pleasures, especially the guilty ones, in Waters' films. Here, Graham indulges that by casting Sean Patterson as Tracy's mother Edna Turnblad. Patterson practically steals the show, whether he's walking around in a housedress, quipping in a thick accent or modeling plus-size clothes. The offbeat humor is a good counterpoint to the dance numbers. — Will Coviello
Thru Oct. 10
8 p.m. Thu.-Sat.; 2 p.m. Sun.
Le Petit Theatre, 616 St. Peter St., 522-2081; www.lepetittheatre.com