Music by Marc Shaiman. Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman. Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan. An Arts Club Theatre production. At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Wednesday, May 18. Continues until July 10
Hairspray is the perfect feel-good show for summer.
A Broadway smash based on the 1988 John Waters film, Hairspray is set in Baltimore in 1962. Its plump, plucky heroine is Tracy Turnblad, a high-schooler who dreams of being a dancer on The Corny Collins Show, whose cast consists entirely of white, slender teens. The show’s producer, Velma Von Tussle, laughs her out of the audition, but thanks to some moves she picks up from a couple of black classmates during after-school detention, Tracy lands a spot on the show and then causes a stir by suggesting that it should be racially integrated. The ensuing controversy lands Tracy and her friends in jail, and threatens her budding romance with heartthrob Link Larkin.
Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s book is darkly comic, with frequent quips about the seamier aspects of life in Baltimore, but these never get in the way of the fun. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s songs are effervescent, affectionate tributes to the era that bolster the sense of festivity.
Director Bill Millerd helms a uniformly superb cast. Among the standouts: Matt Palmer’s smooth, easygoing Corny is a great foil to Cailin Stadnyk’s uptight, scheming Velma. J. Cameron Barnett brings killer moves to the role of Tracy’s dancing mentor, Seaweed J. Stubbs, and Seaweed’s mom, Motormouth Maybelle, is played by Alana Hibbert in a powerhouse performance that nearly steals the show. Jennie Neumann’s Tracy is as sweet as honey; Laurie Murdoch makes her supportive dad irresistibly charming; and Andy Toth (filling in for Jay Brazeau) not only fills the fabulous drag costumes of Tracy’s mom, Edna, but also brings a heartwarming tenderness and vulnerability to the character.
Alison Green’s costumes fill the stage with colour, and her plus-size creations for Edna are an all-you-can-eat buffet for the eyes. Ted Roberts’s set, in keeping with the cartoonish feel of the show, features vividly painted backdrops for the various locations. During the scenes on the TV show, the set opens up so that we can see the musicians—who, under Ken Cormier’s able direction, never let the energy flag. Valerie Easton’s choreography adds to the show’s overall exuberance.
This is great, frothy fun—a summer treat.