TR Robertson — From the moment the large cast of SDMT’s production of “Hairspray” sets foot on stage until the final encore number, the energy of the musical is infectious and inspirational. The Tony award winning musical opened to a sold out crowd on Saturday and everyone left feeling a little better than when they entered. The talented cast of 24 actors and actresses and the ten piece “Hairspray” Orchestra were non-stop in their presentation of this 2002 Broadway production.
“Hairspray” would run for more than 6 years on the Neil Simon Theatre stage in New York City and would be nominated for 13 Tony’s, winning 8, including those for Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score and Best Direction. It would also win 9 Drama Desk Awards and 2 Theatre World Awards. The musical is based on the 1988 John Walters movie. The book was by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Whittmann and Marc Shaiman. The SDMT musical is directed by J. Scott Lapp, who is returning to the SDMT stage.
Photos Ken Jacques
The story of “Hairspray” centers around Tracy Turnblad and her friend Penny Pingleton as they fight to be dancers on the popular Baltimore WZZT TV Corny Collins Show, a show featuring predominately white high school dancers. The time period is the early 1960’s, specifically 1962. Tracy lives with her ever optimistic parents, Edna and Wilbur Turnblad. Along the way, Tracy will fight it out with a vindictive high schooler, Amber Von Tussle, and her spiteful mother, Velma Von Tussle, who is also Corny’s producer. Tracy will not only fight for the right to be a Collins Show dancer, but she will take up to fight to try and get the Collins Show to allow black teens to join in as dancers on an everyday basis rather than only once a month on Negro Day. The crusade will end up with a confrontation, landing lots of the group in jail. Along the way, Tracy will fall for the “love of her life”, Link Larkin. Penny will also fall in love, with a young black man, Seaweed J. Stubbs, whose mother, Motormouth Maybelle, runs a record shop on the “other side of the tracks”. All to the consternation of Penny’s mom, Prudy, who is just that, a prud. Motormouth will join in Tracy’s cause, as will lots of Seaweed’s friends. Motormouth tells them, “If something is worth fighting for, do it” and “You can’t get lazy when things get crazy”. Without giving too much away, “Hairspray” will end leaving you uplifted and in a positive mood.
Historically, the musical is actually based on a real TV show that appeared in Baltimore from 1957-1964. The Buddy Deane Show was a very popular show, rivaling the American Bandstand Show from Philadelphia. Both of these shows played “interracial music”, but did not allow blacks to dance on the programs, with the exception of Deane’s show where every other Friday a program was allowed to feature only black teenagers, no whites in the show. Stations felt they would alienate their viewership and lose sponsors with anything more than this. On Dick Clark’s American Bandstand they not allowed to have white acts that sounded “too black”. Buddy Deane would battle to have integrated black & white dance shows, but was taken off the air in 1964 when he pushed too hard. Dick Clark’s Bandstand show would move to Los Angeles in 1964 and integrated dance shows would begin. “Hairspray” is a tribute to this early 60’s battle to bring to a close the segregation of this small part of the television world.
“Hairspray” is also a story about one girl’s willingness to fight against the stereotyping and discrimination of people, not just on their race, but also their physical appearance. Tracy, her mother Edna and Motormouth are personalities designed to show appearance does not make any difference about an individual’s abilities and their character. These are strong female personalities used to emphasize acceptance and point out the issues of discrimination within our society. Edna is always performed by a “husky” male character in drag for the musical, adding to the discussion of discrimination in today’s world.
SDMT has assembled a strong cast for this musical. Playing the female lead, Tracey Turnblad, is Bethany Slomka. Bethany is a SDMT veteran and brings a bubbling personality, a strong voice and a great presence for the lead role she loves. She has a number of standout performances such as, “Good Morning Baltimore”, “I Can Hear the Bells”, and a passionate performance with other cast members in “Big, Blonde and Beautiful”. Playing her mother, Edna, is another SDMT veteran, John Massey, who gives a hilarious and very entertaining presentation of Edna. A San Diego regional theatre veteran, Steve Gunderson, plays Tracy’s father, Wilbur Turnblad. Wilbur and Edna are audience favorites, especially in their number “Timeless to Me”, and their biting humor keeps the audience laughing. Tracy’s love interest, Link Larkin, is played by Nick Eiter, making his SDMT debut.
Other standout performances come from Emma Nossal, playing Penny Pingleton; Lauren King Thompson, playing Amber Von Tussle and Zackary Scot Wolfe, playing the television show host Corny Collins. Three other members of the cast show a wonderfully powerful and strong range in the numbers they sing. Kenneth Mosley brings the house down as Seaweed J. Stubbs, especially with “Run and Tell That”. Playing Seaweed’s mother, Motormouth Maybelle, is Eboni Muse, who is absolutely majestic with powerful versions of “Big. Blonde and Beautiful” and “I Know Where I’ve Been”. That third cast member with an amazing voice, who is so good you love to hate her, playing the conniving, bigot Velma Von Tussle, is Eileen Bowman. Eileen is also making her SDMT debut, but has performed in numerous theatres throughout San Diego. She has received several Craig Noel Award nominations.
The rest of this amazing cast includes Debra Wanger, Janae Parson, Andra Caston, Madeline Edwards, Kiara Geolina, Taylor Henderson, Kyle Leatherbury, Marisa Moenho, Renata Moenho, Dylan Nalbandian, Joy Newbegin, Dallas Perry, Susanna Vaughan, and Austin Wright.
A wonderful 10 piece “Hairspray” orchestra is directed by Don Le Master. The quick paced, intricate choreography is by Jill Gorrie. The rest of the Creative Crew is Lighting Designer Michelle Miles, Sound Designer Kevin Anthenill, Scenic Designer Mike Buckley, Hair & Wig Designer Peter Herman, Costume Designer Janet Pitcher, Property Master Heather Longfellow and Stage manager Marie Jahelka. A very simple set design stands out with vibrant colors and the big hair wigs and very colorful costumes are very 60’s.
This is a fun show that will have you dancing in your seat and it is filled with many funny, memorable scenes. You will also be invited to dance on the final encore number. “Hairspray The Broadway Musical” will run until September 4th at the San Diego Musical Theatre home, the Horton Grand Theatre at 444 Fourth Avenue in the Gaslamp District of San Diego. Tickets can be purchased at 858-560-5740 or go to www.SDMT.org. Next up for SDMT is “Young Frankenstein” beginning Sept. 28th.