Thursday, February 6, 2014

A high-kicking Hairspray at Wheelock

Jenna Lea Scott bids Baltimore good morning in Hairspray.

By now you've probably heard the word, but just in case you haven't, the Wheelock Family Theatre's Hairspray (through Feb. 23) is a big, buoyant bouffant of a show that's one of the silliest, most effortless pleasures of the season.  Wheelock has pulled together an all-star team for the leading roles (Robert Saoud, Aimee Doherty, Jenna Lea Scott, Peter Carey) matched them with talented up-and-comers in the supporting parts (Jennifer Beth Glick, Michael Notardonato, Jon Allen), then surrounded the whole soufflĂ© with an effervescent dance ensemble that nearly high-kicks the roof off the building.

It adds up to over two hours of bubbly, primary-color-saturated fun. And if you're worried that the source material is a little - well, PG-13, shall we say - don't be. The bottom line of this musical is sweetly uplifting in Wheelock's patented, family-friendly way (it's all about being yourself whoever you are, and not letting any kind of prejudice stop you); and what little remains of John Waters' gross-out gestalt is breezed over with a wink and a smile. So the show actually reads as wholesome enough for kids, without being cloying for adults. (And fear not, occasional double entendres like "Miss Baltimore Crabs" sail over young heads anyway.)

Robert Saoud struts his stuff as Edna.
To be honest, the tone of this show isn't too hard to figure out - still, director Susan Kosoff nails it, and her design and dance team (particularly choreographer Laurel Conrad) nail the period, too.  And Kosoff was wise to cast the beaming Jenna Lea Scott as sweet, round Tracy Turnblad (who only wants to dance on the Corny Collins Show, kiss her big crush, and oh, integrate all of Baltimore while she's at it); Scott anchors the show with just the right level of eager appeal. Meanwhile, all around her, Janie E. Howland's Dating-Game set is being chewed to tasty effect by old pros like Robert Saoud (as plus-size Mom Edna Turnblad, in the role that went to Divine in the original film) and Aimee Doherty, whose villainous Velma Von Tussle is almost as big a fan of apartheid as she is of her pouty daughter Amber (the talented Jane Bernhard). My eye was also caught by the very charming Jennifer Beth Glick as geeky best-friend Penny Pingleton, the dreamy Michael Notardonato as heart-throb Link Larkin, the loose-limbed Jon Allen as Seaweed J. Stubbs, and the luminous Tyla Collier as Little Inez. It was likewise good to catch up again with local stalwarts Peter A. Carey and Cheryl McMahon, who avidly nibble what's left of the scenery once Saoud and Doherty are through. And I have to give props to the dynamite turn by Maritza Bostic, Ciera-Dawn Washington, and Kerri Wilson-Ellenberger as the Supreme-ly glittering "Dynamites."

As if all that weren't enough, the dance crew prances on (and into the aisles) regularly to shake a tail feather to Marc Shaiman's bubbly score. I confess I do wish some of the music from the original movie had made it to Broadway; it was generally more authentic than Shaiman's slightly-more-syrupy pop concoctions. But Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan's book, and Scott Wittman and Shaiman's lyics, are all a big improvement over John Waters' script, I have to admit; I'm still chuckling over the joke about the Gabor sisters, in fact. All in all, I'd recommend Hairspray to anyone. Yes, you may find yourself sharing an armrest with a seven-year-old - but remember: you really shouldn't be prejudiced!

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