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A CurtainUp Review
Hairspray

Hairspray arrives in London


My parents begged me to run away to a circus. — Wilbur Turnblad

Hairspray
Mel Smith, Leanne Jones and Michael Ball as the Turnblad Family (Photo: Catherine Ashmore)
Set in an age before people became concerned by the damage to the ozone layer of aerosols, the Broadway feelgood hit musical Hairspray arrives in London. It comes with a British cast but everything else is per the Broadway original.

The most amusing purported story about the London production of Hairspray is about a number of Michael Ball fans who have approached the Box Office asking for a refund. It seems that they have watched the show but report that Ball, the star of many West End musicals, did not make an appearance. Of course, if they have neither read the programme nor have seen the advance publicity, they indeed might not have recognised Michael Ball in a fat suit, wig and dame make up playing Tracy's mother Edna Turnblad.

Hairspray is sure of a brilliant run in London. Its story has the kind of Cinderella warmth of a nice girl with an unconventional body shape getting her handsome prince and of a more hopeful society for Baltimore's black community. This simple message of tolerance for otherness is one I cannot fault. No way would Tracy Turnblad's feet fit into the delicate glass slippers but Leanne Jones, in her first West End role, could probably dance Cinderella off the dance floor. So Hairspray scores for reminding those of us, daily exposed to Size Zero models and celebrities in the media, that fat girls can be gorgeous too and for alerting casting agents that girls like Leanne deserve a shot at the best parts. You will also be impressed by the sheer professionalism of the production: beautifully choreographed, energetic dance scenes and bright, lively, designed sets and costumes. The music too, although I felt it may be a tad derivative, in style if not in actual notes, is an homage to the popular songs of the 1950s with a brilliant beat and sing along melodies.

I was blown away by Leanne Jones. Her sparkling personality is so endearing, I defy anyone with a heart not to love her from her very first scene. What is amazing is at no point do we feel this sweet, smiley girl is anything except totally sincere. There is no edge of schmaltzy or saccharine. Michael Ball twinkles away as Edna, Tracy's mother although comedian Mel Smith is rather more contained as Wilbur, but their big duet, "Timeless to Me," gets a huge hand. Elinor Collet as Penny Pingleton makes the transition from geeky girl to beauty after hooking up with Seaweed J Stubbs, played by the very talented Adrian Hansel whose solo "Run and Tell That" impresses. I liked too Johnnie Fiori's performance as Momma Motormouth Maybelle and Ben James-Ellis is cute as the teen idol and male lead Link Larkin. The Mowtown type group, the Dynamites are superlative as their number welcomes the advent of the 1960s.

The sets are gloriously over the top and the heights of big hair seem to defy gravity in the competition scene. When Tracy smarting at the unfairness of the voting in the Miss Hairspray contest regrets the manipulation of a judicial system just to win a contest, the joke is not lost on the British audience. The Shaftesbury Theatre tends not to get passing trade, stuck as it is in a theatrical no-man's land at the far end of Shaftesbury Avenue, but with the word about Hairspray being a great show, this Cinderella theatre should be getting good crowds for some time.

A full review of the original New York production, with song list, follows the current production notes.

HAIRSPRAY
Book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Based on the New Line Cinema film written and directed by John Waters
Directed by Jack O'Brien

Starring: Michael Ball, Mel Smith and introducing Leanne Jones and Ben James-Ellis
With: Tracie Bennett, Natalie Best, Dermot Canavan, Elinor Collett, Johnnie Fiori, Adrian Hansel, Paul Manuel, Wendy Somerville, Rachael Wooding, Gavin Alex, Fem Belling, Philip Catchpole, Lewis Davies, Helen Dixon, Emma Dodd, Tim Frater, Kate Gillespie, Ewan Gillies, Nicky Griffiths, Jenii Hicks, Holly James, Sandra Marvin, Terel Nugent, Michael Peters, Adam Price, Charlotte Riby, Dominic Shaw, Neil Toon, Michael Vinsen, Zara Warren, Yaa, Jacqui Zvimba
Set Design: David Rockwell
Choreographer: Jerry Mitchell
Lighting: Kenneth Posner
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Wigs and Hair by Paul Huntley
Sound: Steve C Kennedy
Music Director: Nicholas Skilbeck
Orchestrations: Harold Wheeler
Running time: Two hours 35 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7379 5399
Booking to 25th October 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 31st October 2007 at the Shaftesbury Theatre, 210 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2 (Tube: Holborn)


The original review byElyse Sommer

The future's got a million roads for you to choose
But you'll walk a little taller in some high-heel shoes

--- from "Welcome to the '60s", the show-stopper by the aptly named Dynamites Trio ( Kamilah Martin, Judine Richard and Shayna Steele).
Marissa Jaret Winokur as Tracy Turnblad and   Harvey Fierstein  as  Edna Turnblad
Marissa Jaret Winokur as Tracy Turnblad and Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad. (Photo: Paul Kolnik)
If I had to sum up this latest musical adaptation of a movie golden oldie in one sentence, I would do it with the title of the final number, "You Can't Stop the Beat." That beat, as dished up by composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman and his co-lyricist Scott Wittman, is a foot tapping trip to the rock'n'roll era of the 60s and the heyday of the teen-age dance show American Bandstand.

The story is pure Cinderella. Make that Cinderellas, for Hairspray centers around two moths turning into butterflies -- one more unlikely and adorable than the other. Sixteen-year-old Tracy (Marissa Jaret Winokur who seems to have been born to be Tracy) is a self-propelled fairy tale heroine. She's short and squat but her dancing and Beehive hairdo can compete with the best of the more conventional looking teens on the Corny Collins TV show. In the course of making her dream come true, Tracy also unfolds the wings of her plus-sized, frumpy, ironing board tethered mom (Harvey Fierestein who, his decidedly non-lyrical foghorn voice and mountains of silicone fat notwithstanding, exudes enough maternal warmth and witty physicality to add a new best actor-and-actress in a musical category to the Tonys). Not only does Tracy manage to get on the show, but she wins the heart of Prince Charming-cum-Elvis-wannabe (Matthew Morrison) and integrates the show, thus helping her hometown of Baltimore to take a giant step forward in racial tolerance.

All this puts enough key elements in place to satisfy those for whom a good musical is like a good hairspray, light but with enough hold to keep it from collapsing from its fluffiness. The nineteen songs (no Webber-like leaning on reprises) fit the book so well that you wonder why this wasn't a musical to begin with, with many that will keep bouncing around in your head.

Fans of the film will be pleased with the fidelity to the original by book writers Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan (Meehan also contributed mightily to the success of another musical mega hit, The Producers -- our review). They'll also find Harvey Fierest in and Marissa Jaret Winokur better than satisfactory replacements for the original Tracy (Ricky Lake) and Edna (the cross-dresser Divine). As a familiarity with or liking of the Waters film isn't a prerequisite for enjoying the show neither is being old enough catch all the little homages to the '60s or young enough for all its shenanigans to jog memories of your own teens. In fact, while I would tag the youngest age to warrant the expenditure for a ticket at 10 to 12, the 5-year old boy next to me, as well as a 7-year-old girl in front of him, were happily and quietly attentive throughout.

As if those endearing Cinderellas and the bouncy score weren't enough, director Jack O'Brien has turned the large supporting cast into a tight-knit unit that gives new meaning to the expression all-star. Laura Bell Bundy as Amber Von Tussle and Linda Hart as her mom, the bigoted producer and former Miss Baltimore Crabs, give winning performances as the blonde "villains." Matthew Morrison's Link Larkin is sweet and attractive as befits the prince of Tracy's dreams. Kerry Butler, as Tracy's best friend Penny proves that the good impression she made as a teen ager in the musical Bat Boy wasn't a passing one (our review).

Leading the actors who keep the integration subplot from succumbing to its tendency to preach are Mary Bond Davis as Motormouth Maybelle, the big-voiced proprietor of a record store; Corey Reynolds as her nimble-footed son Seaweed who becomes Penny's dreamboat; and Danielle Eugenia Wilson as her scrappy daughter Little Inez. Dick Latessa is just right as Edna's somewhat nutty but devoted husband Wilbur. Director O'Brien scores extra points for allowing an encore right in the middle of the show for Wilbur and Edna's "Timeless To Me" duet.

Due credit for the show's deliciously tacky pleasures can be credited to the behind the scenes stars: Jerry Mitchell for his spirited choreography; David Rockwell clever panels and roll-on scenery, ingeniously lit by Kenneth Posner. (The ensemble silhoutted against bright orange backed ovals in the opening scene establishes the overall visual mood of an animated cartoon); William Ivey Long's fabulously kitschy costumes and Paul Huntley's buoyant, bouffant hairdos -- one in particular outdoing a wedding cake in its towering, frothy glory.

Because of the big ripple of positive publicity preceding and immediately following last week's official Broadway opening, Hairspray is sure to be compared with the big movie-into-super-hit-musical, The Producers (our review). While it may well have a more original score, The Producers has sturdier legs to carry it to the pantheon of classic musical comedies. But then why look for split ends in a show that's been sprayed and laquered for big laughs and fun rather than musical history making.

Hair Spray
Book by Mark O'Donnell & Thomas Meehan, adapted from the John Waters film of the same name.
Music: byMarc Shaiman
Music and Lyrics by Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittmanl Directed by Jack O'Brien
Musical director: Lon Hoyt
Choreographer Jerry Mitchell.
Cast: Marissa Jaret Winokur (Tracy Turnblad), Harvey Fierstein (Edna Turnblad), Clarke Thorell (Corny Collins), Laura Bell Bundy (Amber Von Tussle), Matthew Morrison (Link Larkin), Jackie Hoffman (Prudy Pingleton, Gym Teacher and Matron), Kerry Butler (Penny Pingleton), Linda Hart (Velma Von Tussle), Joel Vig (Harriman F. Spritzer, Principal, Mr. Pinky and Guard), Dick Latessa (Wilbur Turnblad), Corey Reynolds (Seaweed J. Stubbs), Danelle Eugenia Wilson (Little Inez), and Mary Bond Davis (Motormouth Maybelle).
Also: Eric Anthony, Shoshana Bean, Joshua Bergassse, Eric Dysart, Adam Fleming, Jennifer Gambatesse, Greg Graham, Danielle Lee Greaves, David Greenspan, John Hill, Jackie Hoffman, Hollie Howard, Katharine Leonard, Kamilah Martin, Rashad Naylor, Judine Richard, Peter Matthew Smith, Todd Michel Smith, Shayna Steele, Brooke Tansley, Joel Vig.
Set Design: David Rockwell .
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Sound Design: Steve C. Kennedy
Wigs and hair design: Paul Huntley
Orchestrations: Harold Wheeler
Orchestra conductor: Lon Hoyt
Running time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission
Neil Simon, 250 W. 52nd St., (Broadway/6th Av), 307-4100
website
From 7/18/02 Tue - Sat at 8pm; Wed & Sat at 2pm; Sun at 3pm -- $60-$95.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 8/20 performance.
Closing 1/04/09
Musical Numbers
Act One

  • Prologue: Good Morning Baltimore/Tracy & Company
  • The Nicest Kids in Town/Corny Collins & Council Members
  • Mama, I''m a Big Girl Now/Edna & Tracy, Velma & Amber, Penny & Prudy
  • I Can Hear the Bells/Tracy
  • (The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs/Velma & Council Members
  • The Madison/Corny & Company
  • The Nicest Kids in Town (Reprise)/Corny & Council Members
  • It Takes Two/Link & Tracy
  • Welcome to the '60s/Tracy, Edna, The Dynamites & Company
  • Run and Tell That/Seaweed
  • Run and Tell That/Seaweed, Little Inez & Company
  • Big, Blonde & Beautiful/Motormouth, Little Inez, Tracy, Edna, Wilbur
Act Two

  • The Big Dollhouse/.Women
  • Good Morning Baltimore (Reprise)/Tracy
  • Timeless to Me/Wilbur & Edna
  • Without Love/Link, Tracy, Seaweed, Penny
  • I Know Where I've Been/Motormouth & Company
  • Hairspray/.Corny & Council Members
  • Cooties/Amber & Council Members
  • You Can't Stop the Beat/Tracy, Link, Penny, Seaweed, Edna, Wilbur, Motormouth & Company
The  Playbill Broadway YearBook
The Playbill Broadway YearBook


Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide


broadwaynewyork.com


amazon




©Copyright 2007, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from esommer@curtainup.com