New Monitor review of HAIRSPRAY

Bonstelle’s ‘Hairspray’ is lots of fun

By Robert Delaney

Original article can be found in the print edition of the NEW MONITOR from April 19, 2012.

 

A teen-age girl in 1962 Baltimore refuses to let her size keep her from entering a local talent competition, and also champions the cause of racial integration, in the musical “Hairspray”, the final production of the 2011-2012 season at Wayne State University’s Bonstelle Theatre.

With plenty of humor and musical numbers that capture the spirit of the era, “Hairspray” makes fun of the hair-dos and fashions of the period, but also illustrates the conflicts of a society just beginning to wrestle with the remnants of its legacy of segregation.

Marc Shaiman wrote the early 1960s-style music and co-wrote the lyrics with Scott Wittman, and Mark O’Donnell and Thomans Meehan wrote the book for this musical adaptation of John Waters’ 1988 film of the same name.

Director Michael J. Barnes has given us a full-blown staging of the musical, with lots of singing and dancing by the mostly undergraduate cast.

It is a most impressive production, with its only serious flaw being the difficulty of understanding the words being sung much of the time. I suppose there is no getting around the modern trend to use electronic amplification for staged musicals, but I do wish this problem of understandability could be solved—either that, or start projecting the lyrics above the stage the way they do at opera houses nowadays.

Kelli Wereley is just a delight as the plump Tracy Turnblad, who aspires to dance on the “Corny Collins Show”—the local version of “American Bandstand”—and vie for the title of “Miss Hairspray 1962.”

Andrick Siegmund shows another side to his talents in the cross-dressing role of Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s plus-sized mother.

Kelly Klopocinski is appropriately unsympathetic as Tracy’s mean girl rival, Amber Von Tussle, and Britta Peele gives a fine portrayal of Amber’s racist TV-producer mother, Velma.

Some of the best singing in the show is done by Taurean Hogan as Seaweed, one of the black teens who are only allowed to appear on the “Corny Collins Show” once a month, and by Bridgette Jordan as his mother, disc jockey Motormouth Maybelle.

But the very best singing is by the three terrific young performers who make up the Supremes-like trio The Dynamites—Katrina Carson, Ivy Haralson and Carollette Phillips. Phillips, many theatergoers will recognize, is a member of WSU’s graduate Hilberry Theatre company and also recently revealed her writing talent in the Heck-Rabi Playwriting Competition.

George Abud provided some additional comedy as Tracy’s eccentric father; Jackson McLaskey fit the role of teen heart-throb Link Larkin; and the only problem with Robbie Dwight’s portrayal of Corny Collins was that he was difficult to hear (perhaps because of a technical problem?).

The depth of talent in WSU’s theatre program is attested to by the quality of the dancing by the two parallel choruses—the white kids from the TV show and the black kids from the record shop. Choreographer J.M. Rebudal deserves high praise, as does the music director Daniel Grieg and the seven members of his pit orchestra. The show also is a solid triumph for set designer Michael Wilkki, lighting designer Jon Weaver and costume designers Mary Copenhagen, Clare Hungate-Hawk and Anne Suchyta. Especially spectacular were the shimmering gowns worn by the three Dynamites.

Those planning to attend the Friday, April 20, performance are invited to come early for a pre-show discussion beginning at 7:15 p.m. Allen Rawls of the Motown Museum will discuss Motown Records’ impact on society and culture, and Ph.D. history student Beth Fowler will discuss the relationship between rock and roll music and more tolerant attitudes among black and white teenagers during the Civil Rights era.

“Hairspray” continues through April 22 at the Bonstelle Theatre, 3424 Woodward Ave., a block south of Mack in Detroit’s Medical Center area, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. For ticket information, call (313)577-2960 or go to http://www.wsushows.com.

 

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