Saturday, August 6, 2011

- Theater Review - Hairspray

Eastlight Theatre closes out its regular season with the regional premiere of "Hairspray".

...and a fine finale it is!

"Hairspray" is a brilliant musical; a funny and surprisingly sweet valentine from the twisted mind of auteur John Waters. 
 The show takes place in 1962 Baltimore at the dawn of the 60's civil rights era.
Based on his 1988 movie of the same title that featured the inimitable Divine, this stage vehicle was created as a high-energy production with one memorable musical number after another. 
The show debuted on Broadway in 2002 and won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Although it took nearly a decade for the musical to hit a Central Illinois local theater stage, the Eastlight production makes it well worth the wait.

First off, recognition must be given to Steve Cordle's direction and Mark Baugher's flawless choreography.

Dancing is, of course, at the very heart of this show and though some numbers felt at times to be confined by the size of the stage, Baugher coaxes every bit of energy and skill from the sizable cast.

With such a large cast it is impractical to recognize everyone, but a few standout performances must be acknowledged.

The two roles that I consider critical to the success of this show are "hair-hopper" activist Tracy Turnblad and her waiting-to-blossom mother Edna.

Katy Hawley's Tracy is right on the mark.  She brings a great voice, great moves, and an incredible energy to the lead role.  Her rendition of the wonderful opener, "Good Morning, Baltimore", kicks the show off  with a bang!

Likewise, Eric Ewan is absolutely perfect as Edna Turnblad.  As an homage to the late Divine, this role is always played by a man. 
Here Mr. Ewan is more Divine than John Travolta could ever hope to be!
His duet with veteran actor Dan Challacombe, "You're Timeless To Me" is the true show-stopper it was intended to be. 
It had been awhile since I have seen Challacombe onstage and his return as Wilbur Turnblad (particularly in this number) was a welcome sight.

Another veteran actor, Chip Joyce, can always be counted on to deliver a great performance, and his Corny Collins is no disappointment.

Kelsey Burd is simply delightful as "checkerboard chick" Penny Pingleton and Brandon Chandler shines as her love interest, Seaweed.

Amanda Skinner as Motormouth Maybelle has two very important numbers. Although I felt she held back a bit on "Big, Blonde, and Beautiful", she totally nailed the hauntingly beautiful "I know Where I've Been". 
While this song is ostensibly about the struggles of the civil rights movement, it is universally applicable about overcoming life's obstacles by tapping one's personal inner strength.

Jeremy Kelly is great as heart-throb Link Larkin,  He shines in "It Takes Two" and he achieves the needed chemistry in his duets with Tracy.

Ingrid Weiman and Jessi Palkovic turn in good performances as Velma and Amber Von Tussle respectively.

There are two actors in multiple roles that really impress.
Sally Lawrence-Knapp plays Prudy Pingleton, The Gym Teacher, and The Prison Matron. 
Joel Shoemaker plays Mr. Pinky, Mr. Spritzer, and The Principal.
Both of these actors take these 'minor' roles and turn them into stand-out performances that are integral to the play.  Kudos!

The opening night performance contained some of those sound issues that drive me crazy.  Some of the important lyrics were lost through these microphone cut-outs.
There were also some problems with the revolving stage, that sent out the wrong sets for the scene and exposed the backs of previous set pieces.

Hopefully these were opening night glitches that will be corrected in the remaining performances.

"Hairspray" is one of my personal favorites and I was thrilled to see this excellent opening performance with a nearly full house.

There are plenty of chances remaining to see this great show (or see it again!) 
Performances continue tonight, tomorrow, and August 10, 11, 12, & 13 at the East Peoria Community High School stage.

Call the box office at 699-SHOW for your tickets. 
"Hairspray" should not be missed!


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