Hairspray | Fox Theatre

With lines such as, “I hope I didn’t dent your ’do,” “I wish everyday was negro day!” and “If we get one more white person in here, it will be a suburb” to deliver, how could the laughs not be forthcoming?

 

Book By Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Music By Marc Shaiman
Lyrics By Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Directed by Jack O’Brien

Get ready to shake your collective tail feathers, St. Louis. The Fabulous Fox is taking us back a few decades with a top-notch production of Hairspray! The story—based upon the cult favorite movie by John Waters—deals with life in the early ‘60s, when social change was in the air and corny dance programs ruled the airwaves.

Starring in the lead role of Tracy Turnblad—an ambitious teenager with a heart of gold and a passion for dancing—was Keala Settle. Settle lit up the stage with her fantastic vocal ability and larger-than-life persona. But Settle wasn’t the only actor tearing up the stage; she was supported by an amazing cast pulling off some impressive performances.

Tara Macri was stunning as the perky Amber Von Tussle, J.P. Dougherty was heavenly as Edna Turnblad (made popular in the movie by the one-of-a-kind actress Divine), Susan Henley was dominating in her performance of Velma Von Tussle, and Charlotte Crossley was unforgettable as Motormouth Maybelle.

Turning in sensational comedic roles were Caissie Levy as Penny Pingleton and Jm J. Bullock (yes, the man who made Too Close for Comfort’s Monroe a household name) in the role of Tracy’s father, Wilbur Turnblad. Both Bullock and Levy made lasting impressions on the audience by delivering their lines with wide-eyed innocence and self-effacing humor.

The actors should give a big thank you to both Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan for giving them such memorable lines to recite. With lines such as, “I hope I didn’t dent your ’do,” “I wish everyday was negro day!” and “If we get one more white person in here, it will be a suburb” to deliver, how could the laughs not be forthcoming? The writers must have known the razor-thin line between racist and funny and stayed well on the side of good taste when crafting these lines. I give credit to these writers for allowing us to laugh at the silliness of ignorance without becoming too preachy.

The songs of the show could even be considered as another member of the cast. With such memorable musical gems as “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,” “Welcome to the ’60s,” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” each number ratcheted up the enjoyment factor in spades. Both Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman should be commended for creating such an enjoyable arsenal of songs, giving give this production a healthy dose of attitude and style.

Despite a few audio problems in the first act, the show succeeded on a technical level with gorgeous costumes, breathtaking sets, and a dazzling light show. Not to be outdone by the guys in the rafters, Jerry Mitchell’s choreography took center stage with several eye-catching and spectacular dance sequences. Even getting the big girls in the act, Mitchell showed that you don’t have to be svelte to pull off nifty dance moves, you just have to have talent. Both Settle and Dougherty—the aforementioned big girls—impressed me by turning in terrific dance performances without appearing to break a sweat.

Hairspray is one of those productions that you just don’t want to come to an end. Full of larger-than-life characters, fantastic dancing, and a heartwarming message, this production of Hairspray was, in a word, marvelous. With Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables on the horizon, the Fabulous Fox has once again proven that musical theater is alive and well in St. Louis.

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