Ever since “Hairspray,” based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name, first hit the stage, it’s been a favorite among “underdogs” of all types. In this delightfully written, funny, and pointed musical, boundaries are broken and the “little guy” always comes out a victor.
Of course, the “little guy” is really a not-so-little girl, the overweight Tracy Turnblad who dreams of dancing on “The Corny Collins Show.” Tracy and her quest to first get on the show and then integrate it (the play is set in 1962) is at the heart of the play, and as such, it’s almost impossible to have a good production of “Hairspray” without a solid leading actress. Luckily, Raleigh Little Theatre’s production, directed by L.D. Burris, has young Emma Wyatt. From the moment she takes the stage solo, Wyatt proves to be an adorable and highly likable Tracy. Her infectious energy, commanding presence, and powerful singing voice get the production off to a promising start, and it makes good on that promise.
The well-cast Wyatt is backed by a barrage of talented cast members, including the hilarious Tony Hefner as Tracy’s larger-than-life, tell-it-like-it-is mother; Tina Morris-Anderson (and her powerhouse voice) as local celebrity MotorMouth Maybelle, and Gretchen Bruesehoff as the bratty Amber Von Tussel, Tracy’s arch-nemesis.
As the cast dances and sings it way through several large-scale musical productions, Elizabeth Newton’s sets accommodate each one with ease. Her much-used set for “The Corny Collins Show,” which features records on the wall and even the use of some impressive graphics, is especially picture-perfect and gives off an authentic 60s vibe. Combine that with sometimes-entertaining, sometimes-breathtaking choreography from Burris and sparkly, larger than life costumes from Vicki Olson, and this production is easily one of RLT’s best in years.
And, while viewers will likely find that most of the musical numbers are memorable and catchy- think singing them in the car on the way home catchy-, there are definitely some standouts. “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” deserves major praise for its staging, choreography, and three stellar female vocalists- Wyatt, Bruesehoff, and Elin Waring (Penny Pingleton). “Welcome to the 60s” also scores big points for its fast-moving choreography and charming delivery, but the real standout of the night, one that had audience members hooting with laughter at the opening night performance, is “(You’re) Timeless to Me,” a loving, funnily delivered song and dance number featuring Hefner and Kevin Ferguson (Wilbur Turnblad). Really, though, there isn’t a single song or a single moment that’s anything less than enjoyable.
The talented cast has been given lots of room, both artistically and literally speaking, to “play” with the characters, and the result is a sense of freedom, high energy, and just plain joy that bursts through every scene. Thanks to the feel-good-feel, the production gets across the exact message that it should- one of empowerment and acceptance that should resonate with viewers for a very long time.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents HAIRSPRAY at 8 p.m. Aug. 28-30, 3 p.m. Aug. 31, 8 p.m. Sept. 4-6, and 3 p.m. Sept. 7 in RLT‘s Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $24 ($22 students and seniors 62+).
BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/.
SHOW: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/14-15/hairspray.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/1442993935985878/.
2014-15 SEASON: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/14-15/index.html.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, and https://twitter.com/RLT1936.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows.
NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the 3 p.m. Sunday, August 31st, performance.
Hairspray (1988 film): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095270/ (Internet Movie Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hairspray_(1988_film) (Wikipedia).
Hairspray (2002 Broadway musical): http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=11033 (Internet Broadway Database), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hairspray_(musical) (Wikipedia).
Marc Shaiman (music and lyrics): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Shaiman (Wikipedia).
Scott Wittman (lyrics): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Wittman (Wikipedia).
Mark O’Donnell (book): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_O%27Donnell (Wikipedia).
Thomas Meehan (book): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Meehan_%28writer%29 (Wikipedia).
Hairspray (2007 movie musical): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0427327/ (Internet Movie Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hairspray_%282007_film%29 (Wikipedia).
Lavender “L.D.” Burris (Durham director): http://people.duke.edu/~cchilds/bios.html (2 Near the Edge bio).
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 http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.