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A CurtainUp Connecticut Review

You can’t stop an avalanche
As it races down the hill
You can try to stop the seasons, girl,
But ya know you never will
And you can try to stop my dancing feet
Cause you can’t stop the beat/i>.
— Lyrics to the rousing finale.

Tracy’s mother had been portrayed by Divine in the original film and the composers liked the idea of maintaining the tradition of casting a male in drag as Edna Turnblad. Harvey Fierstein auditioned for the role (and won it) with a “half hour vocal audition.” When the musical was adapted into a film, John Travolta played the part of Edna, continuing the drag tradition. — From program notes by Pia Haas.
A scene from Hairspray
(Photo: John Vecchiolla)
Happy days are here again, at least at Westchester Broadway Theatre. After two pallid, uninspired musicals, this popular dinner theater has gotten its groove back with a flashy, funny, fleet of foot and – to coin a phrase – absolutely fab production of Hairspray.

This cheeky musical, based on a 1988 movie from the quirky Baltimore director John Waters, has always been a feel good, high energy experience blending song, dance and easy to digest moralizing. Winner of eight 2003 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, it stands along side Grease and Footloose as a Broadway prize winning homage to teenagers, rebellion and rock and roll.

Set in Waters’ hometown of Baltimore, the musical hints at the rapidly evolving social and sexual landscape of the 1960s. When Tracy Turnblad (Erin McCracken) a chubby, cheerful Baltimore teen, sets her heart on appearing on the local television dance show hosted by Corny Collins (Pat McRoberts) – think Dick Clark - she doesn’t realize she is about to become a galvanizing figure in the struggle for civil rights. Befriended by some black teenagers and invited to dance with them, she is moved to help them to appear regularly on Collins’ show even though only one day a month is reserved for “Negro Dance Day.”

Tracy’s plans are complicated by the show’s scheming producer, Velva Von Tussle (Ann Van Cleve). Velma is determined to have her dizzy blonde daughter, Amber (Kara Dombrowski) crowned this year’s Hairspray Queen (the show’s sponsor is a hairspray company) – and that means no real competition from white or black dancers. And there’s also the problem of Tracy’s emotional fixation on handsome, but sensitive as a post, Link Larkin (Tripp Hampton) the male eye candy on the show. How Tracy manages to get to dance with the Corny Collins regulars, win Link’s heart AND convince the bigoted sponsor that having blacks on the show is good business is the stuff of stage magic – and the skill of a couple of seasoned comedy writers.

Music is the real pulse of the show. Composer Marc Shaiman clearly captured the beat that teenagers rock and romance to. Director Richard Stafford is also attuned to the energy only the very young possess and his dancers approach his daunting and infectious choreography like gold medal Olympians.

It would be easy to say this production succeeds as well as it does because of its sterling ensemble, but that would be like calling a New York Yankees win a team effort. Yeah, but what a team!

Stafford has cast this show with ace performers from top to bottom. I can’t recall seeing a production in which every secondary character blossomed like a star as they do in this one. McCracken is a crackerjack Tracy and she’s matched by Tad Wilson as her larger than life mother, Edna. It’s one of Hairspray’s unique concepts that Edna is played by a man in drag. (It doesn’t push the point, but nevertheless this gender bending situation clearly is a pro gay statement. That’s clear enough when the audience cheers Edna and “her” husband Wilbur (Bruce Rebold) singing “Timeless to Me,” an ode to love and marriage. When Wilbur kisses Edna, the audience is aware that this is a man kissing another man, and the applause is loud and positive.)

Wilson starts out slowly, but once he gets going he invests Edna with comic zeal and sensitivity. Van Cleave is a powerhouse recounting “The Legend of Miss Baltimore Crabs” and Inga Ballard as “Motormouth” Maybelle, stops the show with “I Know Where I’ve Been.”

Kudos also to Terry Palasz and Scott Colcagno, who each play a variety of hilarious characters. He’s funny as the school principal who seems to only be able to turn in 90 degree angles when walking , and she’s gleefully (and lecherously) butch as a coach and a cop.

Despite all that well deserved praise, I’ve saved the best for last. There’s a wiry black kid named Elgin Giles who plays Seaweed and he is nothing short of sensational. He’s got moves and moves and moves and he is dance incarnate. He won’t have to be pointed out – you’ll spot him for sure!

(For song list, refer to Curtainup's original Broadway review

Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman, Marc Shaiman
Book by Mark O’Donnell, Thomas Meehan
Directed and choreographed by Richard Stafford
Associate director/choreographer: Jonathan Stahl
Musical direction: Leo P. Carusone
Cast: Erin McCracken (Tracy Turnblad), Tad Wilson (Edna Turnblad), Pat McRoberts (Corny Collins), Kara Dombrowski (Amber Von Tussle), Ann Van Cleve (Velma Von Tussle), Bruce Rebold (Wilbur Turnblad), Inga Ballard (Motormouth Maybelle), Tripp Hampton (Link Larkin) Elgin Giles (Seaweed), Stacie Gogo (Penny Pingleton) Sydni Beaudoin (Little Inez), Scott Colcagno (Male authority figures) Terry Palasz (Female authority figures).
Sets and costumes by Bottari and Case
Lighting by Andrew Gmoser

Sound by Jon Hatton
Westchester Broadway Theatre, 1 Broadway Plaza, Elmsford, N.Y. (Exit 23 off the Saw Mill Parkway)
Through June 3. Performances: Thursdays through Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 7 and matinees Wednesdays and Thursdays at 1 and Sundays at 1:30. Dinner or lunch served one and a half hours before performance.
Tickets are $52 to $75 and include meal and show. Beverage service and gratuities not included.
Box office: (914) 592-2222.

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