Thursday, July 22, 2010

Review: CLO's 'Hairspray' delights in good vibes, humor


By Alice T. Carter, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

July 21--"Hairspray" is a musical about big hair, big hips and big hearts.

The Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera production that runs through Aug. 1 adds a fourth H: hit.

An animated, energized cast, swiftly paced directing and lively dance numbers create a show that sparkles with good vibes and abundant humor.

A musical adaptation of John Waters' 1988 cult film, "Hairspray" returns to Baltimore in 1962, when televised teenage dance party shows were the equivalent of reality TV, bouffant hair was both literally and figuratively big and racial segregation was legally enforced.

The story follows the journey of Tracy Turnblad, a chubby teen whose ambitions are to dance on the Corny Collins show and win the heart of its teen idol star, Link Larkin. But Tracy's sense of justice is even bigger than her ambitions. She willingly risks losing Link and her spot on the show as she fights to win the rights of blacks to dance alongside their white peers.

Director and choreographer Barry Ivan has wisely packed his 29 with at least 10 performers who have previously performed the musical on Broadway or elsewhere.

That prior experience lends depth and polish to many of the lead roles, most notably those of Katrina Rose Dideriksen as the perky, principled and fearless Tracy Turnblad, Paul Vogt as Tracy's outspoken, doublewide-sized mother Edna, Jim J. Bullock as Tracy's dad Wilbur, Niki Scalera as Tracy's nerdy but loyal friend Penny and Ashley Spencer as Tracy's vapid rival, Amber Von Tussle.

There's a particularly nice rapport between Vogt and Bullock as Tracy's affectionate parents that made their duet "(You're) Timeless to Me" a big hit with the opening night audience.

Also notable is Luba Mason who brings a Cruella de Ville zest for evil to her role as Velma Von Tussle, the producer of the Corny Collins show and Amber's mother and Kecia Lewis-Evans as the big voiced Motormouth Maybelle who cuts loose with two spirited, inspirational songs "Big, Blonde & Beautiful" and "I Know Where I've Been"

Nor should we ignore two versatile performers: Stuart Marland creates a trio of distinct individuals as show sponsor Harriman F. Spritzer, plus-size dress shop owner Mr. Pinky and a high school principal and Madeleine Doherty who delightfully mines the comedy in her roles as Penny's intolerant mother, Prudy Singleton, a no-nonsense gym teacher and an authoritative matron at the local lockup.

Michael Kadin Craig plays a properly bland and decent Link Larkin, Tracy's love interest.

Former 98 Degrees singer and "Dancing With the Stars" champion and host Drew Lachey appears as Corny Collins.

The show does possess two obvious disappointments, however.

The show's ensemble of talented, well-rehearsed dancers may indeed be, as their song proclaims, "The Nicest Kids in Town," but they look a tad mature to be representing The Corny Collins Show's high schoolers.

More confusing is Tracy's petite presence.

What makes Tracy the sympathetic outsider we root for is her plus-size figure.

Attempts to plump up Katrina Rose Dideriksen with some lumpy below the waist padding do not disguise or fill out her obviously svelte body. The result is that the numerous nasty references about her girth that Amber and her mother hurl at her puzzle more than they sting.

Lending sparkle, color and interest to the show are sets by David Rockwell and costumes by William Ivey Long whose designs were used in the 2002 original Broadway production.

Providing a snippet or two of American history, an abundance of good-willed humor and lively, upbeat music, "Hairspray" delights.


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