It must have been coincidence, but Raleigh Little Theatre couldn’t have been more in tune with the country in choosing to produce Hairspray — with book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman — right now. The delightful story of segregation turned to integration, based on the film about a TV Teen Dance show in Baltimore in 1962, shines a spotlight on the unfortunate news headlines of the past three weeks — and does it with dance, song and verve.
A lively and talented cast just bursts down the aisles and off the stage for two full acts that keep the walls pulsing and the audience’s toes tapping. Backed up by a live 10-piece orchestra, this is easily one of RLT‘s feather-in-its-cap productions, which had a packed house on its feet and cheering on Saturday night.
Director/choreographer L.D. Burris keeps the story rolling and the music rocking from beginning to finale. The ensemble dances are clever, intricate, and fun. Burris chose an outstanding cast of people of all ages, who have the common traits of very high energy and noticeable talent.
Vicki Olsen and her huge crew created a myriad of costume changes, into colorful clothing that brought the early Sixties back with their original flair, enhanced by Ann Boivin’s wig designs, which anyone who survived that period will recall, the upsweeps, bouffants and beehives. (Anyone remember the urban legend about the cockroaches in the beehive?)
Scenic designer Elizabeth Newton created ample space for the many ensemble dances with a stage that also accommodates the Turnblad’s living room, where Edna takes in ironing to supplement the income, and the set for the WZZT teen dance program, “The Corny Collins Show,” and a prison cell. Lighting designer Elizabeth Grimes Droessler sets the ambience for each scene, using scrims to great advantage, and especially the use of lights and shadow to create a jail cell, and “On Air,” and “Stand By” displays lending authenticity to the TV studio.
As Tracy Turnblad, Emma Wyatt, making her debut at RLT, belts out songs with a velvety voice and dances like the star of the show, which she richly deserves to be called. Tony Hefner, no novice to cross-dressing on stage, plays the part of Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s resilient mother, smoothly and with pathos. He showed the sensitivity of a mother with a precocious child embarking on a dangerous adventure.
Wilbur Turnblad is brought to us by Kevin Ferguson as a charming and loving dad and husband who will do anything for his family. Penny Pingleton is portrayed by Ellen Waring, who transforms from a little girl in bobby sox to a sophisticated young lady possessing daring and resolve.
DeRay Graham as Seaweed J. Stubbs amazes us with dance routines and a wonderful musical style, singing himself into our hearts. Tina Morris-Anderson gives us Motormouth Maybelle, mother of Seaweed and Little Inez, who is played by Leilani Carr. Morris-Anderson knocks out “I Know Where I’ve Been” with operatic virtuosity, and leads the ensemble in a terrific rendition of “Big, Blond and Beautiful.”
Tim Malboeuf plays well as Link Larkin, Tracy’s love interest, who finally comes around to seeing her for whom she is, after letting her down. Brian Hollingsworth appears as Corny Collins, TV Emcee of the teen dance show that Tracy wants to audition for. Hollingsworth brings us the typical host of the era.
Velma Van Tussle, the antagonist of the show, is played by Natalie Turgeon, and a less likable antagonist would be hard to imagine, because Velma is cold hearted, self important and permanently racist. But Turgeon gives her a comedic touch that ameliorates the mendacity of the character. Her daughter, a chip-off-the-old-block, Amber Von Tussle is played with equal distaste by Gretchen Bruesehoff as greedy, selfish and spoiled.
The dance ensemble does wonderful work; and Chris Daniels, April Christian and Mea Wilkerson are outstanding in these routines. Stage manager Bunny Safron deserves applause for her efforts with a cast of this size, requiring the multitude of individual personal attentions only a stage manager can give.
This wonderful show continues at Raleigh Little Theatre through Sept. 12th. (A one-week extension was recently announced as a result of popular demand.)
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 27th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/hairspray/Event?oid=4204819; Aug. 26th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/08/26/4095614_hairspray-a-toe-tapping-success.html; Aug. 25th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Karasarides: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Reviews-Raleigh-Little-Theatres-HAIRSPRAY-20140825; Aug. 24th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=6941; and Aug. 24th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2014/08/hairspray-is-a-hit-for-rlt/.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents HAIRSPRAY at 8 p.m. Aug. 28-30, 3 p.m. Aug. 31, 8 p.m. Sept. 4-6, 3 p.m. Sept. 7, and 8 p.m. Sept. 11 and 12 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).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.