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Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: Hairspray

Posted By on Fri, Jul 14, 2017 at 3:34 PM

click to enlarge MICHAEL PALUMBO

Hairspray, currently running at Summer Lyric Theatre at Tulane University, could be just another nostalgic song and dance revue, featuring clueless teenagers with beehives and saddle shoes, but it’s not. The musical, which ran for six years on Broadway and won eight Tony Awards, has multi-dimensional characters living in a segregated city just beginning to deal with difficult issues of race. The show’s humor is edgy, but its rendering is brilliant and heartwarming under the masterful direction of Michael McKelvey.

John Waters, the cult filmmaker who produced the original movie, grew up in the gritty, blue-collar city of Baltimore in the 1960s, as does its pudgy heroine, Tracy Turnblad (Kristin Collura). Tracy cheerfully sings about her everyday experiences — “There’s the flasher who lives next door. / There’s the bum on his barroom stool. / They wish me luck on my way to school.” Like today’s contestants on The Voice, she hopes to rise above her situation by auditioning for the Corny Collins Show, sponsored by Ultra Clutch Hair Spray.

click to enlarge MICHAEL PALUMBO
Tracy’s parents, Wilbur (Bob Edes Jr.) and Edna (Sean Patterson), adamantly oppose Tracy’s plan. Dressed in a roomy housecoat and wearing a hair curler bonnet, Edna insists that laundry, not dancing, is her daughter’s future. “If you want to be famous, learn how to take blood out of car upholstery. That’s a skill you can take right to the bank,” Edna advises. Written by humorists Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Hairspray is rife with outrageous, off-color jokes.

After skipping school, Tracy and her friend Penny Pingleton (Emerson Steele) wind up in detention where they make friends with black students who teach them groovy new dance moves that Seaweed J. Stubbs (Polanco Jones Jr.) calls Peyton Place After Midnight. When Tracy demonstrates her locomotion to Corny Collins (Keith Claverie), she wins a spot on his show and a kiss from its heartthrob Link Larkin (Frankie Thams), angering the producer and vicious stage mom Velma Von Tussle (Kali Russell).

Tracy also brings progressive views to the TV show, which allows black students on once per month on Negro Day. On-air, she says she would make every day Negro Day. Tracy gains popularity and Penny starts dating Seaweed, much to her mother’s chagrin.

Superb casting allows every actor to shine, with special note to Collura, Claverie, Russell, Thams and Jones. Edes and Patterson are unforgettable in their romantic duet, “You’re Timeless to Me.”

Despite the film premiering almost 30 years ago, Hairspray seems relevant to our times. Many lines reference popular culture long past, but the humor is on point. Tracy and her friends think it’s cool venturing to the black part of town, wondering if it is safe, but Motormouth Maybelle (Jacqui Cross) quips in response: “Now, honey, we got more reason to be scared on your street.”

Gorgeous costumes, 1960s dances, a terrific set and full orchestra conducted by Jefferson Turner make Hairspray a feast for eyes and ears. As The Dynamites, Jessica Mixon, Whitney Mixon and Shangobunmi McAlpine are sublime, and Cross brings down the house.

July 14-16
8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 2 p.m. Sun.
Tulane University, Dixon Hall, (504) 865-5269
Tickets $26-$46

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