WESTCHESTER, NY – The new musical, Hairspray, currently playing at the Westchester Broadway Theatre, has something for everyone. It is a light-hearted story that tackles some very serious issues. It validates the concept that if one perseveres long enough, success will be met. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. And, reminds us all, that we are equal, regardless of skin color.
The musical’s road to Broadway was a long and winding one. It began as a cult film by John Waters in 1988, with Rikki Lake in the title role of the pleasingly plump teenager Tracy Turnblad. The late drag queen, Divine, played her mother. Rounding out the cast in supporting roles were the late Sonny Bono and comedic legend Jerry Stiller. Some 14 years would go by, before this delightfully innovative musical hit the Great White Way. And, when it did, it was a smash hit, with both critics and mainstream audiences flocking to see the story of a Baltimore teenage girl whose dream was to appear on the Corny Collins Show, a local version of ‘American Bandstand.’ The show won eight Tony Awards including best musical, book, score and direction. The show’s leading actors Marissa Jaret Winokur (Best Leading Actress in a Musical), Harvey Fierstein as Mama Edna (Best Leading Actor in a Musical) and Dick Latessa, who played Papa Wilbur Turnblad (Best Featured Actor in a Musical) were also bestowed Tony Awards for their performances.
The musical ran on Broadway from 2002 – 2009.
In 2007, Hairspray was made into a movie with superstar John Travolta stepping into Edna’s very large high heeled shoes.
In the WBT production, Erin McCracken (Tracy), Tad Wilson (Edna) and Bruce Ribold (Wilbur) play the Turnblads, a working class family in 1962 Baltimore. McCracken embodies the wide-eyed optimism of the dreamy eyed teenager who aspires to audition for the Corny Collins Show. The larger than life Edna (Wilson) loves her daughter, encourages her but, deep down, knows that life does not offer any guarantees, and does not want to see her daughter hurt in any way. The milquetoast, hen-pecked Wilbur genuinely loves his family, and is all too eager to see that his daughter’s fondest dreams are realized.
The supporting cast is expertly led by Ann Van Cleave, who as Velma Von Tussle, wishes nothing more than to see her daughter, Amber (Kara Dombrowski) follow in her footsteps. Velma was once ‘Miss Baltimore Crab,’ and does everything in her power to make Amber a star on the Corny Collins show and for her daughter to win the win the coveted crown of Miss Hairspray of 1962. Audiences of current shows such as American Idol will love this aspect of the show.
When one of the regular dancers announces that she is going on a leave of absence (nine months worth!), a vacancy opens up and much to Mrs. Von Tussle’s chagrin, Tracy is cast for the show. Not only is Tracy a hit on the show, but she also falls for the show’s leading man, Link Larkin (Tripp Hampton). As she tries to gain attention from her new found love, Tracy is crestfallen when she sees that Link only has eyes for her mortal enemy Amber.
On the other side of Baltimore, Tracy meets a group of black dancers and their ‘mother hen,’ Motormouth Maybelle (Inga Ballard). She then decides to try and get them on the show, as well. What better way is there to unite people but through music, which is the universal language?
Tracy is warned by one of her new found friends that the only thing Tracy will find is a whole passle of trouble if she tries to integrate the show.
Within a flash, Tracy and her friends are arrested and put into jail.
What transpires next is a comedic sequence of events that not only sees everyone united in music, but also sees Link admit his love for Tracy, and the unlikeliest of talent winners is crowned, as the audience votes for Tracy as Miss Hairspray of 1962.
Erin McCracken brings a new vitality and wholesomeness to her character of Tracy Turnblad. There are not enough words in the dictionary to describe how Tad Wilson deliciously brings Edna Turnblad to life. He masterfully fills out Edna’s size 54 EEE brassiere. The otherwise shy and quiet Wilbur (Bruce Rebold) expresses his devotion to his life’s mate in one of the more touching musical numbers as he sings you’re ‘Timeless to me’ to his beloved Edna. Beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder.
Inga Ballard brings a sophisticated sassiness to her role of Motormouth Maybelle. She has seen the dark side of segregation, but yearns in her heart for the day in which all people can live as one. A year before the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, Motormouth brings the Civil Rights leader’s sentiments to music, as she recalls the long and winding road that she and others of her generation have faced.
Special mention should be made to Pat McRoberts who plays Corny Collins. With the recent death of America’s oldest teenager Dick Clark (1929-2012), McRoberts embodies the spirit of the legendary television host, who genuinely feels a kinship not only with his performers but also to his audience. Seeing McRoberts on stage brought back many vivid memories of ‘American Bandstand’ while, at the same time, bringing elements of today’s hugely popular ‘American Idol’ to the forefront.
Hairspray is a musical that should not be missed. Director and choreographer Richard Stafford, together with his associate Jonathan Stahl and musical director Leo P. Carusone have crafted an evening’s worth of entertainment that will be long remembered. It has hope, optimism and spirit. The 1960s was not just an era of bouffant hair-dos and rock and roll. It was an era that saw change in America. Mixed with tragedy, the 1960s taught all of us immeasurable lessons. Hairspray brilliantly captures the sense of optimism we all had during the days of Camelot and instills a message within us that transcends time.
Hairspray runs through June 3, 2012. Tickets may be obtained by calling (914)-592-2222 or by visiting the Westchester Broadway Theatre’s website at www.BroadwayTheatre.com. I assure you, you and your guests will have a most enjoyable time.