Hairspray, Book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman; based on a film by John Waters. Directed by Mark Hardy. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"You're timeless to me."
It doesn't seem to matter how many times I see this show; it never grows old or tired or disappointing. This is the second production in seven years at the Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, NY and it's as much fun as the last one. The Turnblads are a bit older as John Saunders takes on Edna again and Colin Pritchard reprises his role as Wilbur. What those seven years have given them is a real sense of time together and the charm of their second act duet - "You're Timeless To Me" - is enhanced through their easy familiarity with one another. Edna, larger than life laundress and Wilbur, over-the-top inventor, are two of the musical theater's most delicious people and in this current production they find themselves able to be as silly as they want without ever losing their identities. In fact, the more fun they have, the more fun the audience has. In this production they really DO have more fun. I guess it's true what they say about blondes!
As much as this show is about integration on television in 1962 and about the confidence that an overweight teenager brings to the ball game, it is really a story about love and its effect on people who doubt that love is enough. Edna has given up on life. Penny and Prudy Pingleton live with destroyed dreams of fulfillment. Seaweed and Little Inez only know the restrictions of a segregated city. The Van Tussle women believe that only with power and control is there any satisfaction. Tracy Turnblad's excursion into all of their worlds with her single-minded drive for love changes all of their lives for the better. That's the world of "Hairspray."
Tracy is played by Chantelle Cognevich, who sings like a champion, acts like a champion and dances very well. Of the Tracy's I've seen she is the only one who isn't a "dancing with the stars" front-runner and though the plot depends on this being so, it actually didn't matter all that much. Her talents are delightful and she took the stage like a swimmer takes the pool: with confidence, strength and beauty.
Playing the boy she loves from afar, Link Larkin, is Conor Fallon who carries the romantic robe regally. He has charm and nice voice and good looks and a dancer's grace. He handles the role of heart-throb with ease. As his black counterpart, Seaweed J. Stubbs, Rasheem Ford is a powerhouse performer. He never overpowers his cohorts and yet his presence is always known and appreciated. His sister, Little Inez, is played with exuberance and fun by Erica Durham.
Mrs. Van Tussle, the bigoted and almost bibulous television producer, is played for all she's worth by Sheira Stein. This actress sports a sneer that contorts her face and body and that's a talent worth some special notice. Her daughter Amber is played by Sarah Mae Banning and if the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, then Amber and Velma are one character divided into two distinct age groups. Both women are funny and alarming and they could not have been better in their villainous roles.
Mr. Pinky, played by Jamie Grayson was well wrought. Jordan Bunshaft's Harriman Spritzer was played with character-style. Mark Edwards' Corny Collins was exactly what was called for with just enough ego to make him funny. Maggie Randolph was an appropriately demon-ridden Prudy.
Aneesa Folds was a beautifully blonde Motormouth Mabel, singing, caressing and cajoling her brood of Baltimorians, keeping them safe and supporting their more dangerous enterprises. She nearly stopped the show with her second act solo, "I Know Where I've Been." Penny Pingleton, played beautifully by Emily Franklin, almost did the same through her excellent transition from one ugly duckling to one swan.
I do enjoy this show and Mark Hardy's somewhat awkward staging did nothing to deter me from having a good old time with "Hairspray." Bryan Knowlton's choreography was exuberant though not inspired. Jimm Halliday's costumes were more fun this time around than they were the last time and the production, in general, had a really nice look and feel to it.
It is just the fun of this show that keeps it so popular and the fun is all here at the Mac-Haydn. The band sounded good, if loud, and the performance was boisterous if at times strained to keep up the beat, which you cannot stop in this show. Or in the world, if you can believe the book of this show. I do.
John Saunders and Colin Pritchard; photo: provided
Chantelle Cognevich (c), Erica Durham (r) and "the best kids in town"; photo: provided
Rasheem Ford, Saunders and Pritchard; photo: provided
Hairspray plays through July 19 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre located at 1925 State Route 203 in Chatham, NY. For tickets and information contact the box office at 518-392-9292 or go on line at www.machaydntheatre.org.