Hairspray | The Muny

Hairspray 75What I love most about Hairspray is this is a show that celebrates love—not only the love of others but also the love of one’s self.

 

 

 

 

Hairspray 500

Although the opening night performance of Hairspray was far from flawless, the show defends itself with the message in its finale number “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” It proved true that no amount of audio technical difficulties (which unfortunately were abundant) or flubbed lines would slow the energy of this show. The Muny’s production of Hairspray was as quirky and comical as any fan of this cult classic would desire it to be—a relaxing transition from the structured life prevalent in My Fair Lady before it.

The Muny’s timing with this show selection was impeccable, a point recognized also by Artistic Director & Executive Producer Mike Isaacson, in the playbill. Hairspray takes place in 1960s Baltimore, and the plot is largely driven by the civil rights issues of the time—concerns not unlike those making headlines today. “(Hairspray) is on The Muny stage five months after riots in Baltimore, ten months after the events of Ferguson,” Isaacson writes. It’s disconcerting just how apparent the parallel is between the world in the musical and the world the audience shuffles back into when the production is over, decades later. Fortunately, as Isaacson himself adds, this show is crafted to keep the crowd jolly with its comical dialogue, light-hearted racial jabs, and its inspiring conclusion, leaving little time to dwell on the negative.

The only thing big-haired Tracy Turnblad (Ryann Redmond) wants is to be a dancer on The Corny Collins Show. Well, that and to date the show’s resident stud muffin Link Larkin (John Battagliese). Even though she can dance and sing, Tracy’s large figure and short stature do not make her the ideal castmember in the eyes of the show’s self-centered blonde Amber Von Tussle (Taylor Louderman) and her mother Velma (Heather Ayers), who happens to be the show’s producer. Even Tracy’s well-meaning mother Edna (Bryan Batt) doesn’t really think she stands a chance at stardom. 

With the added oomph of some new dance moves that Tracy learns from black classmate Seaweed (Gerald Caesar), she catches the eye of Corny Collins (Christopher J. Hanke) himself and immediately earns herself a place on the show. Not only does her appearance set her apart, so too does her “radical” stance on integration. She makes it known that if it were up to her, everyday would be Negro Day (the name for the one day of the month that black dancers appeared—without whites—on the show). Racial integration on the show becomes her goal.

Despite frequent issues with the microphones, the vocals were top-notch; although, I would have preferred a less whiney tone from Louderman as Amber. Her character basically does nothing but pout, which is fine for dialogue, but transferred annoyingly into her singing. (She, by the way, played Wendy on NBC’s fairly recent production of Peter Pan Live). Redmond shined as Tracy bringing the perfect combination of raw acting, singing, and dancing talent to the role. The most vocally impressive performance actually comes from Motormouth Maybellle, played by Liz Mikel. Her performance of “I Know Where I’ve Been” was stunning.

Scenic Designer Robert Mark Morgan created a phenomenal set for this show. The primary backdrop gives the audience a taste of a colorful Baltimore street. The coolest component of the set was a giant video screen which magnified the live footage of The Corny Collins Show being filmed in real time, allowing the crowd to see the show as someone would on their television screen at home.

What I love most about Hairspray is this is a show that celebrates love—not only the love of others but also the love of one’s self. As stated in “Without Love,” my favorite song in the show, “Without love, life is like the seasons with no summer.” Summer is in full-swing here in St. Louis, and I couldn’t suggest a better time to spend an evening with these characters. | Megan Washausen

Hairspray runs at The Muny through June 30. For ticket information, visit http://www.muny.org/shows/hairspray.

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