Reviewed by John P. McCarthy/For the Journal News
“Hairspray,” the Tony-winning musical based on John Waters’ 1988 movie — which was then remade for the multiplex in 2007 — gets an enjoyable staging at Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford.
Only a curmudgeon could fail to be won over by this charmer, which delivers a tuneful argument against racial discrimination and all prejudice, served up with entertaining parcels of relatively bawdy humor.
Without taking any major risks, WBT does justice to Marc Shaiman’s infectious score, lyrics by Shaiman and Nanuet’s Scott Wittman (the team behind NBC’s “Smash”), the punning book by Mark O’Donnell and Suffern’s Thomas Meehan, and Waters’ slightly warped outlook.
Like every other dance-crazed teen in 1962 Baltimore, Tracy Turnblad longs to appear on the “The Corny Collins Show.” But she’s not considered TV material due to her plump figure and reputation as a poufy-haired troublemaker. Undeterred, she auditions for an open spot and immediately advocates for letting black and white kids gyrate together on camera (“I’m all for integration!”) — much to the chagrin of biased producer Velma Von Tussle and the show’s sponsor.
Tracy really feels the pull of so-called “race music” in detention, where she’s schooled by African-American Seaweed J. Stubbs, whose mother, Motormouth Maybelle, later gives soulful voice to her civil rights struggle (“I Know Where I’ve Been”). Progressive kids from both sides of the color barrier then land in hot water for challenging the status quo. Eventually, all is made right during the crowning of Miss Teenage Hairspray 1962 — at least within this one urban-dance microcosm.
Along the way, Tracy and her zaftig mother Edna discover that self-esteem and accepting others go hand in hand, and the younger Turnblad even wins the heart of a handsome white crooner.
Erin McCracken pleasantly conveys Tracy’s rebel spirit, hitting all her notes and never missing a step. More petite than plus-sized, she doesn’t bring a strong physical presence to the part, but it’s easy to cheer for her sweet, energetic Tracy.
Donning drag to play Edna, Tad Wilson fits comfortably into the slippers once worn by Divine, Harvey Fierstein and John Travolta. Edna and hubby Wilbur’s second-act ode to matrimonial love (“Timeless to Me”) is a highlight.
It’s fun to watch scene-stealing turns by Scott Colcagno and Terry Palasz, each of whom limns a trifecta of small “authority figure” roles with aplomb: Colcagno plays the TV show sponsor Harriman F. Spritzer, Principal, and Mr. Pinky; Palasz plays Prudy Pingleton, Gym Teacher, and Matron.
Pat McRoberts, Ann Van Cleave, and Inga Ballard anchor the production as Corny Collins, Thelma Von Tussle, and Maybelle.
Director/choreographer Richard Stafford makes considerable and sometimes disorienting use of the dinner theater’s aisles, which likely added to the time it took for the ensemble to find its tempo and voice on opening night.
In general, the women surpass the men vocally and the crisply choreographed musical numbers could use more aural punch. The TV-inspired set and the period costumes were designed and constructed by Michael Bottari and Ron Case, and are functional.
The lighting left the most to be desired on the technical front. It seemed erratic both in design and opening-night execution — with characters not lit sufficiently and some cues missed.
Still, once the cast settles in and the sluggish early scenes are gotten past, it’s hard to resist, let along stop, the liberating beat of “Hairspray.”
“Hairspray” Through June 3. Shows at 1 and 8 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays; at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; at 1:30 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Meal service begins two hours before curtain. Westchester Broadway Theatre, 1 Broadway Plaza, Elmsford. $75, $65 for seniors, $52 those 16 and younger. 914-592-2222. www.broadwaytheatre.com
Photo by John Vecchiolla: Erin McCracken is Tracy Turnblad, singing “Good Morning, Baltimore,” in the Westchester Broadway Theatre production of “Hairspray.”
About the author: John P. McCarthy has been an arts and entertainment writer for more than 15 years. His reviews have appeared in Daily Variety, Time Out New York, TV Guide and Boxoffice magazine, among other publications. A native of Los Angeles, he lives in lower Westchester with his wife and three kids. Fun fact: he’s a lifetime member of Georgetown University’s Mask & Bauble dramatic society, the second oldest continuously running theater group in the United States.”