Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Hairspray
Village Theatre
Review by David Edward Hughes


Nick DeSantis and Cast
Photo by Photo by Mark Kitaoka
The retirement of the much-loved 25-year Village Theatre Artistic Director Steve Tomkins coincides with the season-closing production of Hairspray, a show which holds a special place in the hearts of Seattle audiences, as the pre-Broadway run took place locally at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre. The show has proven itself in a league with such Broadway classics from the golden age as The Music Man, Guys and Dolls, and Hello, Dolly! as a hilarious, tuneful crowd-pleaser with an eye on an America of the early 1960s just on the verge of sweeping civil rights changes. But it takes perfect casting in place to get the adaptation by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan of the cult-classic John Waters film with its outrageously catchy score by composer Marc Shaiman and his co-lyricist Scott Wittman to full fruition. Happily, Mr. Tomkins and co-director Timothy McCuen Piggee found the right cast and production team to make this a blast of Hairspray just as satisfying as the original.

Set in early '60s Baltimore, plus-sized charmer Tracy Turnblad practically wishes her way onto her favorite daytime dance show, the American Bandstand-esque "Corny Collins Show." Tracy's laundress mama Edna and her novelty store papa Wilbur are reluctant to encourage their girl's hopes, but tornado Tracy, along with her stalwart pal Penny Pingleton and new acquaintances like Motormouth Maybelle and her son Seaweed who headline Corny's Negro Day, forges ahead. Corny himself supports Tracy's ascent to appear as one of the "Nicest Kids in Town" on his show, but bigoted, ice queen producer Velma Von Tussle and blonde airhead mini-me daughter Amber are determined to dash Tracy's dreams at any cost. Tracy's dreamboat heartthrob Link Larkin has been dating Amber but is soon won over to Tracy's team, much to the Von Tussles' dismay, though his dreams of big-league showbiz are tied to a talent scout seeing him on Corny's show. It isn't hard to predict where this Cinderella tale is going, but it fires on all cylinders thanks the directors, Crystal Dawn Munkers' period-perfect choreography, and musical director R.J. Tancioco's slam-bang musical direction of the cast and a dream orchestra.

Callie Williams as Tracy makes an auspicious VT debut, with performance savvy that suggests she comes from a genetic splicing of Ethel Merman and Carol Burnett. Her big solo numbers "Good Morning Baltimore" and "I Can Hear The Bells" light the fire and Williams keeps it hot, despite a tendency to mug and play out a bit too much. The role of Edna requires a total star-turn as it was for Divine on film and Harvey Fierstein on Broadway and live TV. Comic dynamo Nick DeSantis' Edna has all the heart, sass, vocal power and moves to make the character his own, and indeed a highpoint of his notable Seattle career thus far. Peter Crook as Wilbur is a charmingly off-center jokester, and the chemistry between Crook and DeSantis on their big-guns act two duet "Timeless to Me" and throughout the show brings out a special glow which I've found missing in other productions of this show. Ethan Carpenter's squared-jaw, life sized Malt Shop Ken Doll approach to the role of Link is on point, and he and Williams spark off each other effortlessly.

Other featured gems in the supporting cast: Beth DeVries savoring a rare all-out comic role as vituperative Velma and making the score's weakest song, "Miss Baltimore Crabs," a spicy main dish; Tori Gresham makes the perfect mean-girl progeny as Amber; Becca Orts' hilariously hapless Penny teaming with Charles Simmons' sensational Seaweed (he sizzles in "Run and Tell That") as the show's most endearing odd-couple; Jason Kappus captivating, magnetic as Corny; and talented newcomer Belle Pugh as Seaweed's plucky sis, Little Inez.

What makes the show an 11 on a scale of 10 is (besides notable ensemble cast champs John-David Scott, Alexandria Henderson, and Christine Riippi and John X. Deveney who score as the show's many adult authority figures) is the star presence of the incredible Shaunyce Omar as Motormouth Maybelle. Just at the moment when a show like this might falter, the songwriters had the presence of mind to give this character two great numbers ("Big, Blonde and Beautiful" and especially "I Know Where I've Been") and Ms. Omar delivers them with robust vocals and so much empathy.

Along with the fine lighting and sound design by Michael Gilliam and Brent Warwick, the dazzling technicolored costumes by Alex Jaeger and sensational but never cumbersome scenic designs by Carey Wong deserve special hurrahs.

A lengthy show that never wanes, when this Hairspray loads all its talents into the finale number "You Can't Stop The Beat," you can feel the electric response from the audience. This is don't miss musical theatre at its best and gives Steve Tomkins the big send-off he deserves.

Hairspray, through July 1, 2018, in Village's Issaquah Mainstage, then July 6th through 29th, 2018, at Everett Performing Arts Center. For tickets or information contact the Issaquah box office at 425-392-2292 or the Everett box office at 425-257-8600 or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.


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