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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
For this production, Matt Lenz has re-created the original direction by Jack O'Brien and Michele Lynch has recreated the original choreography by Jerry Mitchell. With a heady cast (no pun intended) notably Christopher Sieber as Edna Turnblad, Lee Roy Reams as Wilbur Turnblad and talented newcomer Christine Danelson, as their daughter Tracy, this production is glitzy and giddy with songs and dances, a bright and lively entertainment for the whole family.
Inspired by camp film director John Water's made-on-the-cheap cult 1988 film, Hairspray was transformed by a creative team comprised of composer Mark Shaiman, Lyricists Scott Wittman and Shaiman, and book authors Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan. Set in 1962 Baltimore, the musical is essentially a valentine to our teen years, those days when adolescent rebellion was being provoked by such major issues as first love, what to wear, who to be seen with at the dance, and why can't a chunky girl ever get the hunky guy. It was a time when racial issues were just beginning to surface in schools and in the predominantly white neighborhoods, and when the music of one race was infiltrating and influencing the music of another. It was also a time for girls to see how high and wide they could tease their hair.
The joy of Hairspray is that it is not a tease, but a surprisingly affecting and affectionate portrait of a young and sweet but overweight teen Tracy Turnblad (played with a winning vivacity by the aforementioned Ms Danelson) who, after she starts off the day with a song ("Good Morning, Baltimore") also turns the tide of racism in her town. Danelson, who was Marissa Jaret Winokur's (the original Tracy) standby in the first national tour, delivers the kind of exuberantly endearing performance the role demands.
It's a love-at-first-sight encounter for the unpopular but sweet Tracy as she bumps into popular pompadour-ed heart-throb Link Larkin. (Constantine Rousouli) at auditions for an all-white televised teen dance show. Although hosted by local TV station emcee Corny Collins (Kasey Marino,) the TV show is manipulated and kept racially segregated by Velma (Donna English,) the show's racist producer and the pushy mother of snooty blonde teen queen Amber (Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone.) Those bigots better get out of the way when Tracy's parents - the larger-than-life Edna and Wilbur Turnblad join forces with the activist teens.
Christopher Sieber, who was (app)lauded for his hilarious on-his-knees performance as the height-challenged prince in the musical Shrek, is showing off his stature and his increased girth (surely padded) as the full-figured Edna. Give Edna a reason to be assertive and Siebert lowers his voice to a sonic boom, as the walls quake. His drag performance is a disarming display of high camp and high kicks. It's also a treat to watch Broadway song and dance veteran Lee Roy Reams, charm us, this time as Wilbur, the owner of the joke shop and attentive adorer of his wife Edna. Their devotion to each other is beautifully defined as they dance to "Timeless to Me."
No back seat is taken by super swiveling and gyrating black teen Seaweed J. Stubbs (Caliaf St. Aubyn) and the stage-commanding presence and formidable voice of Natasha Yvette Williams, as Motor-mouth Maybelle, Seaweed's mother, the owner of a black-record shop. It was fun to watch Alex Ellis, as Tracy's introverted girl friend Penny Pingleton, change in the arms of Seaweed from a mouse to a sex kitten.
Although the show is essentially driven by dancing and a torrent of catchy do-wop and rock styled songs, the book is smartly contrived to confront some heady but heartening social issues and concerns that we are sadly still confronting. Also blissfully recreated are David Rockwell's neon-blitzed comic book settings and the colorful period-perfect costumes by William Ivey Long. With all this, how could Hairspray not lift us up higher than could any beehive.