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“Hairspray” Is Infectiously Energetic

"Hairspray" stars Rachel Musson (left) as Tracy Turnblad and Jack Carmichael as Edna Turnblad (photo by Paul Davis)

“Hairspray” stars Rachel Musson (left) as Tracy Turnblad and Jack Carmichael as Edna Turnblad (photo by Paul Davis)

John Waters’ almost-a-classic film “Hairspray” celebrates the uprising of the underdog, and the stage musical, written by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, takes Waters’ work and makes it even bigger and better. This super-fun, fast-paced, and absolutely hilarious musical has long been a favorite among theatre fans, and Playmakers Repertory Company’s Summer Youth Conservatory definitely does it justice. Featuring a cast of talented, bright young actors and plenty of professional-level touches, this production of “Hairspray” is infectiously energetic.

The story, set in the 60s, all starts with with overweight Tracy Turnblad (Rachel Musson) and her nerdy best friend, Penny Pingleton (Lili Whittier). The pair is positively obsessed with a local dance and music show, The Corny Collins Show, that caters only to the white folks in town. Despite her weight, Tracy manages to dance her way onto the show. But once there, she’s not just content to pine over dreamboat Link Larkin (James Scalise). Thanks to her friend Seaweed J. Stubbs (Daniel Johnson)– whose coaching landed Tracy on the show in the first place- Tracy goes on a mission to integrate the show and maybe even Baltimore as a whole.

The musical is packed with one cheekily-written song and dance number after another, and this vibrant cast nails every single one. While there are lots of standouts, the members of the Turnblad family definitely impress. While Musson proves a solid choice in the lead role, thanks to her bubbly, honest delivery and her killer pipes, it is her character’s mother, portrayed by the hilarious Jack Carmichael, who garners most of the big laughs. Carmichael has a great sense of comedic timing and often steals the stage. The three members of the Turnblad crew, which includes dad Wilbur (Ethan Fox), however, share an affable chemistry, turning them into a realistic, charming family unit.

The PlayMakers Repertory Company Summer Youth Conservatory will present "Hairspray" on July 16-20 in UNC-Chapel Hill's Paul Green Theatre

The PlayMakers Repertory Company Summer Youth Conservatory will present “Hairspray” on July 16-20 in UNC-Chapel Hill’s Paul Green Theatre (photo by Paul Davis)

Of course, heroes couldn’t be heroes without villains, and fortunately, Ainsley Seiger nails her role as Amber Von Tussel, Tracy’s snooty rival. Also stealing the spotlight is Scalise’s Link, who croons and seduces the microphone Elvis-style like nobody’s business.Whitier’s charm makes her supporting role shine, and Johnson has all the moves, juice, and jive his role demands.

In addition to the impressively strong acting, many of the musical numbers are an absolute blast. Favorites include the brilliantly-staged and choreographed “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,” “Welcome to the ‘60s;” and “(You’re) Timeless to Me.” Director Desdemona Chiang has ensured that her young cast understands every lyric and every subtlety, and the fact that the cast truly “gets it” is obvious from start to finish.

This fast-paced, incredibly fun show radiates the energy and excitement that truly good theatre is made from and really shouldn’t be missed.

The PlayMakers Repertory Company Summer Youth Conservatory presents HAIRSPRAY at 7:30 p.m. July 19 and 20 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15 ($10 for students and children under 18).

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY,, or

SHOW: and

VIDEO PREVIEW (by Alex Maness):



BLOG (Page to Stage):





Hairspray (1988 film): (Internet Movie Database) and (Wikipedia).

Hairspray (2002 Broadway musical): (Internet Broadway Database), (Wikipedia).

Marc Shaiman (music and lyrics): (Wikipedia).

Scott Wittman (lyrics): (Wikipedia).

Mark O’Donnell (book): (Wikipedia).

Thomas Meehan (book): (Wikipedia).

Hairspray (2007 movie musical): (Internet Movie Database) and (Wikipedia).

Desdemona Chiang (Seattle/San Francisco-based director): (official website), (Facebook page), and (Twitter page).


Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click To read more of her writings, click and

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