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Signature Theatre Hairspray

By • Dec 21st, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Hairspray
Signature Theatre
Signature Theatre, Arlington, VA
Through January 29th
2:30 with one intermission
$30-$87
Reviewed December 14th, 2011

The 1960’s in America is one of the most popular places to look for nostalgia. People love remembering the crazy hair and fashions. They love the pop music that made the decade shine. But the 60s were also a time of struggle. The Cold War was still going strong and racial injustice was prevalent in society. Hairspray, based on the film of the same name by John Waters, tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, an overweight Baltimore teen who dreams of dancing on television. In Tracy’s journey to be accepted for being herself she discovers that there are others who also long for the freedom to be themselves. If this all sounds too serious, rest assured that it isn’t. It’s a story told with lovely compassion, but it’s still a big, fun musical. The infectious music by March Shaiman with its humorous lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, paint a happy portrait of being a marginalized Baltimore teen in the decade of change. Signature Theatre’s production is not without flaws but does deliver a musical that is lively and very enjoyable.

Hairspray has a solid cast with several standouts and a few problems. Carolyn Cole plays the show’s protagonist Tracy Turnblad. Cole is a great dancer and handles her performance with a lovely mix of befuddled earnestness and vivacity that helps the audience instantly bond with Tracy. However, some of her vocals slide into modern pop star territory with some over-riffing and vibrato that is distracting. Patrick Thomas Cragin as Link Larkin gives a fine performance and he especially shines when paired with Cole for “It Takes Two.” Erin Driscoll was a delightfully self-involved Amber von Tussle, Tracy’s rival. Sherri L. Edelen was a perfect stage mother and manipulator as Amber’s mother Velma. Noya Y. Payton is a feisty Motormouth Maybelle and literally brings the crowd to their feet with her stunning rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been.” Lauren Williams turns in a great performance as Tracy’s best friend Penny. Williams plays Penny’s budding personality with an adorable blend of gawkiness and hope. Stephen Gregory Smith’s turn as Corny Collins, host of one of Baltimore’s teen dance shows is very entertaining. The show’s biggest struggle from an acting perspective was that of Tracy’s parents. Harry A. Winter is competent as father Wilbur, but lacks the chemistry with Edna that makes their relationship so charming. Robert Aubry Davis’s performance as Edna is disappointing. Davis seemed to not commit strongly to a dialect as it faded in and out in the production. His portrayal also seemed to be muddy and lethargic in both his physical choices and emotional range.

The set was truly stunning with its city touches of fire escapes, signs and brickwork. It was a versatile set that was well used to suggest the many locations needed for the script. The lighting was very effectively used helping the audience to find the focus.

Costumes and hair are a big part of this show. The costumes ranged from lovely and period to very unattractive. Tracy and Penny were darling and dorky in their signature outfits. Edna’s early costumes were very well done and showed her character’s attempts at hiding out at home in loungewear, but the costumes that she wore after her transformation still seemed very dowdy. Amber and Velma had some wonderful outfits that were chic and fabulous, however Amber’s dress for the finale was really unflattering. It also didn’t seem to fit the importance of the occasion. Some of the female council member costumes also seemed to be a bit matronly at times, not what you would expect for teenage dancers on a rock n’ roll show. The men’s costumes were fine. Corny had some exceptionally well-done outfits that could have made Wink Martindale jealous, especially the gold jacket. In a show like Hairspray, it’s expected that the show would have big fabulous hair. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Amber, Velma, Motormouth Maybelle and the Dynamites all had great hair. The Corny Collins dancers again seemed somewhat matronly and while Velma wouldn’t let them outshine Amber shouldn’t they be trendy? Tracy’s hairstyles were fine but somewhat subdued, especially for a girl who gets in trouble for her hair. Edna suffers the most in the hair department. Her early styles seem very appropriate while her style after the makeover is very sloppy and uneven.

The choreography of the show is truly exuberant and a joy to watch. “Good Morning Baltimore,” “Run and Tell That” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat” are especially strong in their choreography and execution. The music is wonderfully played and engaging. It’s always a treat to hear a show with great live music.

Eric Schaeffer’s direction of the piece with feels greatly focused. Too often, shows with a lot of technical and musical elements feel scattered and cluttered. Even though this show deals with a lot of set pieces moving people, it’s always easy to follow where the cast is taking the audience next. Because everything is so neatly focused, it allows the audience to fully absorb the fun that the cast has with this show. The story of Hairspray resonates with a contemporary audience because of the hopeful message of acceptance. This production, while not perfect, is certainly a celebration of talent and love.

Photo Gallery

Carolyn Cole (as Tracy Turnblad) adds just a touch of hairspray to her 'do Robert Aubry Davis (as Edna Turnblad) and Harry A. Winter (as Wilbur Turnblad) sing 'You're Timeless to Me.'
Carolyn Cole (as Tracy Turnblad) adds just a touch of hairspray to her ‘do
Robert Aubry Davis (as Edna Turnblad) and Harry A. Winter (as Wilbur Turnblad) sing ‘You’re Timeless to Me.’
Motormouth Maybelle (Nova Y. Payton) feeling the groove and leading the ensemble with 'I Know Where I've Been' The cast
Motormouth Maybelle (Nova Y. Payton) feeling the groove and leading the ensemble with ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’
The cast

Photos by Christopher Mueller

Cast

  • Tracy Turnblad: Carolyn Cole
  • Corny Collins: Stephen Gregory Smith
  • Penny Lou Pingleton: Lauren Williams
  • Prudy Pingleton: Lynn Audrey Neal
  • Edna Turnblad: Robert Aubry Davis
  • Velma von Tussle: Sherri L. Edelen
  • Amber Von Tussle: Erin Driscoll
  • Link Larkin: Patrick Thomas Cragin
  • Harriman F. Spritzer: Matt Conner
  • Wilbur Turnblad: Harry A. Winter
  • Lil’ Inez Stubbs: Adhana Reid
  • Seaweed J. Stubbs: James Hayden Rodriguez
  • Dynamites: Ashleigh King
  • Brandi Knox
  • Kara-Tameika Watkins
  • Mr. Pinky: Matt Conner
  • Gym Teacher: Lynn Audrey Neal
  • Ensemble: Jennifer Cameron
  • Matt Conner
  • Parker Drown
  • Jamie Eacker
  • Nick Hovsepian
  • Sean-Maurice Lynch
  • Kristin Riegler
  • Nicholas Vaughan
  • Matthew Wojtal
  • Stephen Scott Wormley
  • Dance Captain: Stephen Gregory Smith

Understudies

  • Tracy Turnblad: Kristin Riegler
  • Corny Collins: Matthew Wojtal
  • Penny Lou Pingleton: Jennifer Cameron
  • Prudy Pingleton/Edna Turnblad/ Matron/ Gym Teacher: Kathryn Fuller
  • Link Larkin: Parker Drown
  • Wilbur Turnblad: Matt Conner
  • Seaweed J. Stubbs: Sean-Maurice Lynch
  • Motormouth Maybelle: Ashleigh King
  • Swings: Briana Marcantoni, Jobari Parker Namdar, Gannon O’Brien, Shante Corrina Tabb

Musicians

  • Conductor/Piano: Jenny Cartney
  • Reed 1: Scott Van Domelen
  • Reed 1: Ed Walters
  • Keyboard 2: Jonathan Tuzman
  • Keyboard 3: Gabriel Mangiante
  • Guitar: Gerry Kunkel
  • Bass: Chris Chlumsky
  • Drums: Gary Tillman
  • Percussion: Dave Murray

Crew

  • Scenic Design: Daniel Conway
  • Costume Design: Kathleen Geldard
  • Lighting Design: Colin K. Bills
  • Sound Design: Matt Rowe
  • Production Stage Manager: Kerry Epstein
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Taryn Friend
  • Director of Production: Michael D. Curry
  • Orchestrations: Gabriel Mangiate
  • Music Direction: Jon Kalbfleisch
  • Choreography by: Karma Camp & Brianne Camp
  • Directed by: Eric Schaeffer

Disclaimer: Signature Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is an actor, singer, director and writer. She is a relative newcomer to the DC theatrical community. Kari has been performing since she was a little girl in church and began seriously pursuing acting in high school. She is a graduate of Emory & Henry College with a degree in Theater. The favorite part of her theatrical training was her apprenticeship at Barter Theater in Abingdon, Virginia. While at Barter Theatre she was privileged to act on the Main Stage (Eleanor: An American Love Story) and with the Player Company (Frog Prince and Just So Stories Two). Kari is currently concentrating on returning to acting and assisting with drama at her church.

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