Hairspray is Timeless to Me
REVIEW by ANTHONY CHASE
The spirited production of Hairspray now playing at the Kavinoky Theatre, directed and choreographed by Carlos Jones, is feisty and fun.
1960s era dancing propels the festivities in a production that represents a reappraisal of the dynamics between the characters. To begin, this is not Edna’s show – neither in execution nor by intention. On Broadway, the Hairspray phenomenon was all about Harvey Fierstein and his over the top performance as Edna Turnblad, the mother of Tracy Turnblad, a high school girl who wants to dance on the Corny Collins TV show.
The Kavinoky production is all about that girl.
Plus-sized Tracy overcomes body shaming to live her dream and manages to integrate Baltimore television in the process.
In a musical about change across generations, this Hairspray takes young Maeghan McDonald who plays Tracy, and surrounds her with a blend of new and seasoned talent in way that showcases both.
On the side of youth we have Brian Brown who is fabulous as energetic Seaweed Stubbs, an African American young man doing his best to navigate racist Baltimore with a song in his heart and a dance in his step. There is Talia Mobley who plays his sharp-witted sister Li’l Inez. There is Jamil Kassem-Lopez who croons his way through the role of teen heartthrob Link Larkin. And there is Cassidy Kreuzer who makes her mark as self-centered Amber Von Tussle. Then, in smaller roles, the stage brims over with the talents of young Taylor Burrows, Kevin Cusi, Brett Jackson, Stevie Jackson, Hannah Keller, Andrew Kowalczewski, Augustus Donaldson, Jr., Gabriella McKinley, Alexandra Watts, and Anika Pace.
Still, as impressive as the young talent may be, there is a veteran crew on hand to prove that experience counts for a lot.
Anne DeFazio is a laugh riot sensation as uptight Prudy Pingleton, a sexually aggressive gym teacher, and as a deranged prison matron. Kevin Kennedy morphs his way in and out of multiple characters. Natalie Slipko is deliciously tyrannical as Velma Von Tussle. Marc Sacco is cool perfection as Corny Collins. And do drive the point about experience home, John Fredo and Bill Lovern, as Wilbur and Edna Turnblad, provide surprise highlight of the evening with an homage to getting older but staying in love, “You’re Timeless to Me.”
Arin Lee Dandes, who plays Penny Pingleton, is, of course, ageless.
In case you haven’t heard, the talk of the town is Lorenzo Shawn Parnell, cross-dressing to play Motormouth Maybelle, a role previously played by women. With a voice that is perfectly matched to the role, and a personality that just might blow the roof off the Kavinoky Theatre before this run is over, Parnell’s Motormouth is one for the history books. Vivacious, outrageous and still real.
Music direction by Allan Paglia has the house singing with distinctive full-throttle 1960s sound. Costumes by Adrea Letcher are a non-stop flight of nostalgia, humor, and invention. The handsome set is by Paul Bostaph.
Especially admirable is the detail of Jones' direction. Observe as Wilbur, Edna, and Penny watch as Tracy makes her television debut. All the action is center stage, but they tiny scene simultaneously being played stage left (that's audience right) of three people witnessing the most exciting event of their lives is divine. That's the experience the toward which the entire production aspires.
While Hairspray enthusiastically welcomes us to the 1960s, this production is timeless to me. Still, timeless or not, it only plays through October 6th!