A spotlight pops up on a large prop in the center of a darkened stage. As the spot opens it reveals a bed standing on its foot rather than its legs so that the audience gets the illusion of staring down from the ceiling of Tracy Turnblad’s bedroom at her smiling, Good Morning Baltimore face. It is a new day in in 1962 in The Crab Cake Capital of the World, and Tracy is ready to face it head on because she is confident that whatever happens her ratted up hair will stay in place thanks to her…
brilliantly cast and directed by Lydia Horan retains all the irreverence and crude humor that its writers (Mark O’Donnell & Thomas Meehan) and lyricists (Scott Wittman & Marc Shaiman) intended while being true to the cause behind the story with believable characters. The message, prejudice is unacceptable, is delivered with a spoonful of sweetening sarcasm and shallowness that makes it palatable for the masses.
Our unlikely heroine, Tracy (Christina Ramsey), a charming chunk of a lower middle class girl, who spends almost as much time in detention for her big hairdo as she does watching The Corny Collins teen dance Show (every afternoon), decides that black kids and white kids should be able to dance together on TV. Change is initiated as she pursues her personal and societal dreams.
Ramsey is a great little Tracy who understands the power of being in the moment. She is particularly hilarious during “It Takes Two” where Corny Collins Show’s dream boat teen idol, Link Larkin (Keith Wilson- who was great!) croons to her live on TV. Ramsey goes practically coma-like over his attentions coming to at the last to make a dynamic duet.
So much of the cast is so perfect in their stage parts that it is too much to talk about but highlights include; Koli Cutler as Corny Collins (couldn’t wait to write that this morning- I simply adore alliteration), Peter DeMartino as Edna Turnblad (the part made famous by the infamous Divine in the John Waters film version. DeMartino is Fabulous BTW), Katherine Gadzinski as Amber Von Tussle, Gare Galbraith as Wilber Turnblad (the perfect man to play opposite of DeMartino), Ida Yonas as Little Inez, Basil Ward (Soooo smooth! He is a young talent to watch!) as Seaweed Stubbs and Cathy Ames as Motormouth Maybelle (especially singing “I Know Where I’ve Been”).
But the show stealer is clearly Natalie Fehlner as Penny Pingleton. She is so believably dorky as Tracy’s BFF, her mannerisms and line delivery so honest she just ran away with it. Her characterization and transformation simply personified the arch of the story- embracing desegregation makes her free.
Problems with the show on opening night included some missed light and set cues and some off key singing of at least three of the main characters- they know who they are and so I won’t mention names because this is (though it is so good I often forget) community theater and they all tried really hard to sing it well though at one point I was reminded of the Pierce Brosnan in the film version of MAMA MIA debacle. And there was a major prop malfunction during Edna and Wilber’s “You’re Timeless to Me” number which the DeMartino and Galbraith, to their credit, handled with great aplomb which just made the mishap an enjoyable part of the show.
Garret Queen and Kerry Moran’s set is beautiful offering a colorful and functional environment for the actors to do their work and creating a space for a clever time referencing slide display. Mary Cassell’s and Casey Jones’ costumes were historically accurate and fun (I would do all manner of bad things to have one of those red sequined dresses worn by the chorus for my own.) But what makes this show is Daphne D’Earth Latham’s hair and make-up designs. I mean, perfect hair, is after all, what its all about.
Which brings up the question why Tracy’s hair remains in the ratted up-do by the end of the show. If the hair styles represent the mindset aka: stiff, motionless hair stands for a stiff uptight society why did Horan choose to leave Tracy’s hair stiff and trained at the end of the show rather than have Tracy display her rebellion via the means by which she makes her biggest personal statements- her hair? I was waiting for that teased up, uptight symbol to be let loose along with society and flow freely and naturally but it didn’t happen in this production.
Oh Well, it was still wonderful and good food for thought in our current political climate where issues of inequality still challenge us to stand up and initiate change -whether we reflect that via our hairstyle or not.
For more information on Live Arts production of HAIR SPRAY click here.