There are certain aspects of pop culture that I have always been aware of but never have given myself the chance to partake in, and “Hairspray” was part of that list until recently. It wasn’t like I had no desire or curiosity to see any version of it that has been created, whether it be film, stage, or television; it just was never really high on my priority list. With it having a short run at the Winspear Opera House this week, my interest was piqued more than it has before, and I am more than glad I was able to check it out.
For the uninitiated, “Hairspray” takes place in 1962 Baltimore, where Tracy Turnblad (Michelle Dowdy) is a high school sophomore who rushes home to check out her favorite television dance show, hosted by Corny Collins (Shane Allen). When an opportunity to audition for the show becomes available, she cuts school to do so much to the chagrin of her mother (David Coffee, and yes you read that right) and support of her father (Bob Reed). At the audition, she is chastised by the local diva in Amber Von Tussle (Deanna Ott), her mother Velma (Cara Serber), and heartthrob Link Larkin (Joel Ingram). Her struggles with the Van Tussles, acceptance with the African-American kids she meets in detention, and her own convictions create a story of being cool with who you are, acting on your passions, and just knowing when to let the music overtake you.
This production is nothing short of wonderful, with spot-on choreography, a great script, and music that kept me tapping my foot the entire time. Dowdy more than lives up to actresses that came before her like Ricki Lake, Nikki Blonsky, and Maddie Baililo, completely immersing herself into the role and absolutely owning the stage. With the role of Edna being played consistently by men, Coffee is nothing short of brilliant, and his chemistry with Reed is great as shown in their duet “You’re Timeless to Me”. There are even some jokes modified for the city that the show plays in at any time that took me off guard in the best possible ways. There are also really strong performances by Liz Mikel as Motormouth Maybelle, the mother of one of the dancers Tracy meets in detention, as well as Anthony Chatmon, II as Seaweed, her son. And don’t think the antagonists are slouches here, either: Ott and Serber ratchet up the evil to eleven as their characters plot and scheme to get Amber to be elected as Miss Teen Hairspray 1962. Ingram does complement Dowdy well, although his character does not seem to flesh out as well as others as the show progresses.
If there is any regret it is simply that this production is not getting a longer run in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. “Hairspray” is a great way to spend a couple of hours at the theatre, but be aware that there is some adult humor that some of the younger ones may not be quite ready to deal with just yet. Catch this show when it comes to a town near you and prepare to be wowed!