Sunday, August 3, 2014

"Hairspray" Immerses You Into An Energized Blast Into The Past--Now Playing in Summerville

Without splitting the hairs of Penny's bouffant hairdo, the Sixties have been perceived as a decade of change. Some denounced it as a time of irresponsible excesses, flamboyance and social upheaval while others celebrated it as an era of cultural and social revolution inspiring changes in clothing, music, dress and forcing the relaxing of taboos related to race and sex.

Well, good morning Summerville, the Sixties inspired musical, Hairspray, is bringing it all back for a two week romp and on opening night sprayed its feel-good stickiness all over the stage of the James F. Dean Theater.

On Friday night, the community theater on Hutchinson Square was the place to be. Upon entering the modest entryway at the top of the steps and rounding the corner into the auditorium to claim my seat, I sensed something huge was about to be unleashed. From the moment Tracy Turnblad descended the stairs of the darkened theater bathed in the rays of a spotlight singing "Good Morning Baltimore" to the final triumphant, standing ovation chorus, the sold out crowd was immersed into a energized blast into the past.

Director David McLaughlin uncannily assembled a cast eerily reminiscent of the 2007 musical film of the same name starring wildly versatile John Travolta(Edna Turnblad), Queen Latifah(Motormouth Mayebelle), Nikki Blonsky(Tracy Turnblad), Zac Ephron(Link Larkin) and beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer(Velma Von Tussle) in his selection of Chris Williams, Denetra King, Alex Shanko, Christopher Berry, and Sarah Farra for corresponding roles.

Chris Williams as shy, plus-sized Edna Turnblad was a stand out--comically convincing in every respect from his pantyhose to his curlers. His rendition of "Timeless To Me" with Robert Venne as goofy, madly in love with his wife Wilbur Turnblad was heartwarming.

Denetra Williams as Motormouth Mayebelle was vocally superb. This was Denetra's first production for the Flowertown Players and said, "I am loving it." She rocked the house with "Big, Blonde and Beautiful" but brought the house down with her inspirational performance of "I Know Where I've Been."

Tracy Turnblad is the lead character the play revolves around. She is a "pleasantly plump" teenager, who dreams of fame and Link Larkin, and ultimately fights to racially integrate The Corny Collins Show. It was unmistakably obvious Alex Shanko owned her part and loved every minute of it. Her opening execution of "Good Morning Baltimore" was performed well and set the tone for the rest of the play..

Christopher Berry fit the bill as the Corny Collins Show teenage heartthrob, Link Larkin. He had the Sixties rock n' roll thing going on with the "do" and the gyrating moves akin to hipster Elvis Presley. Even more impressive was his acrobatic body flip during a sequel in the first act.

Which now brings me to the malevolent and beautiful, but scheming mother of Amber Von Tussle and producer of The Corny Collins Show, Velma Von Tussle, played by Sarah Farra. Crowned Mrs. South Carolina in 2011 and thrilled to be part of the cast, Sarah's moves on stage were captivatingly chic. You will end up hating to love the cheeky ways of her character.

Finally, Kelly McDavid's portrayal of slightly flaky but pert Penny Pingleton was amusingly entertaining, at times reminding me of the crazy antics of Carol Burnett. Kelly's past achievements include being nominated for "lead actress in a musical" at the 2013 Theatre Charleston Awards as Velma Kelly in "Chicago" where I described her as "unshakably confident and her dance routines were executed with audacious swag." Two characters on the opposite end of the spectrum, Kelly demonstrated her resourcefulness once again.

Other notables were Melissa Frierson(Amber Von Tussle), J.D. Lewis(Corny Collins), and Treshawn Ford(Seaweed J. Stubbs). The set was bright and colorful. The record album painted on the floor genius. Costumes all 60's appropriate and well done.

Congratulations to the entire cast and crew for their successful, near perfect execution of Hairspray with just a couple of hiccups in the dialogue. Hey, they are only human. Opening night exceeded all expectations. With 10 shows to go, it will be a tough act to follow, but I know they will be up to the task.

Purchase tickets for Hairspray.

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