Examiner review of HAIRSPRAY

The Bonstelle wins Motown audiences with a lot of ‘Hairspray’

, Detroit Theater Examiner

Read original article here.

The opening night of Hairspray last night at the Bonstelle Theatre was full and festive. Winner of eight Tony Awards, this musical comedy takes a campy, over-the-top look at the early ‘60s dance and fashion scenes to approach the more serious topic of discrimination.

The heroine of the show is the spunky teen Tracy Turnblad, whose plus-sized stature is the only thing standing between her and her dreams of dancing on Baltimore’s popular Corny Collins Show. Although Tracy eventually twists her way onto the show, she quickly realizes that the kids who showed her the best dance moves are only allowed to appear once a month on TV, on the segregated “Negro Day” program. Relating as she does to the injustice of being a social outcast based on nothing more than outward appearance, Tracy determines to racially integrate the show. Along the way, she must vanquish the bigoted Teen Queen and win the affections of heartthrob Link Larkin. All it takes is a little self-esteem and a lot of hairspray.

Although the telling of this story is clearly tongue-in-cheek, the subject of racial integration in 1962, when the play takes place, is all too real. And the issues of bigotry and racial tension are still far too familiar to Detroit audiences. John Waters, author of the original 1988 film upon which the musical is based, set out to use comedy to examine his first-hand experiences with racism while growing up in Baltimore.“Baltimore was very segregated at the time,” Walters wrote, “but all the cool white kids listened to black radio…. There were no black people on The Buddy Dean Show…they had what they called Negro Day, and it was called worse in some neighborhoods.”

Waters goes on to explain, “I think it would still be touchy to have white and black 15-year-olds slow dancing together on television. Nobody realizes it, but nothing has changed. [White] parents say, ‘Stop listening to that rap music,’ [like they used to say], ‘Stop listening to that race music.’ The way I used to listen to Little Richard screaming Lucille in my bedroom is the way kids are listening to Fifty Cent today. They love it, because their parents hate it.”

No doubt that has much to do with the popularity of this show in Detroit – which gave the world the Motown Sound and Techno, and is birthplace to a legion of top rappers. Music, it seems, is often the harbinger of change, even when its most enthusiastic supporters are naive teens.

Under the direction of Michael J. Barnes, the Bonstelle cast of Hairspray embraces the silliness of the pop songs and the situations, scaling everything larger than life. Indeed, the only way to make the show work is to submit to the almost cloying cuteness of the songs and chortle at the youthful idealism that declares, “If I were president, every day would be Negro Day.”   We cringe while we laugh.

Kelli Wereley is a made-to-order Tracy Turnblad, with an unstoppable sweetness that pours out in her songs and her dancing. Andrick Siegmund, fulfilling the traditional casting of a male actor as Tracy’s mother Edna, was surprisingly good and quite endearing in the duet with husband Wilbur, played with charming humor by George Abud. Robbie Dwight, as Corny Collins, had some lovely moments as the suave emcee of Baltimore’s hottest dance show. And Jackson McLaskey, as teen heartthrob Link Larkin, channeled a young Elvis to wow the girls and give the audience its kicks.

But inevitably, the biggest showstoppers were the Motown-inspired numbers.  The audience cheered at each appearance of “The Dynamites” – a Supremes-inspired trio (Katrinia Carson, Ivy Haralson and Carollette Phillips) – and Motor Mouth Maybelle, sung with genuine inspiration by Bridgette Jordan. We were teased with a sampling of Ms. Jordan’s vocal abilities in the Bonstelle’s production of Intimate Apparel  and were gratified to hear her belt it out in Hairspray.

Hairspray runs at the Bonstelle Theatre through April 22, with shows on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.  Patrons interested in learning more about the Motown Sound will want to attend the pre-show discussion on Friday, April 20, featuring Allen Rawls, CEO of Motown Museum, and Beth Fowler, PhD student in the History Department at Wayne State University. Rawls will discuss Motown’s influence during the 1960s and beyond. Fowler will explore the relationship between rock-and-roll music and the more tolerant attitudes and behaviors among black and white teenagers during the Civil Rights Movement.  The discussion will begin at 7:15 p.m.  There will also be a post-show talkback with the cast after the final performance on Sunday, April 22

Tickets are available at the WSU Theatre box office at the Hilberry Theatre (4743 Cass Avenue, Detroit) or at the door at the Bonstelle Theatre (3424 Woodward Avenue) one hour prior to performances. Regular tickets are available for $15 and $12 discounted tickets are available to students, seniors, and Wayne State University faculty, staff and Alumni Association members. Tickets can also be purchased by calling the box office at (313) 577-2960 or by visiting the Bonstelle website.

In addition to those already mentioned, the talented cast of Hairspray includes: Jacqueline Fenton as Penny Pingleton, Taurean Hogan as Seaweed, Sara Kline as Prudy Pingleton, Kelly Klopocinski as Amber Von Tussle, Matthew Kurtz as Mr. Pinky, Britta Peele as Velma Von Tussle and Aeisha Reese as Little Inez. The wonderful chrorus includes: Mackenzie Conn, Kristin Dawn-Dumas, Renard Hamilton, Philip Henry, Jillian Jackson, Sharayah Johnson, Derell Jones, Sara Kline, Colin Mallory, Kelsey Lusch, Matthew Miazgowicz, Taylor Morrow, Tiaris Patrick, Kelly Robinson, Luke Rose, Anna Seibert and Nicholas Yocum.

The production team includes: Michael J. Barnes (Director), J.M. Rebudal (Choreographer), Daniel Greig (Music Director), Mercedes Coley (Stage Manager), Michael Wilkki (Scenic Designer), Fred Florkowski (Technical Director), Jon Weaver (Lighting Designer), Mary Copenhagen, Clare Hungate-Hawk, Anne Suchyta (Costume Designers), Tyler Ezell (Sound Designer) and Rebecca M. Pierce (Publicity Manager).

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