"Hairspray": The big fat musical hit from Broadway

Aug. 15, 2005, midnight | By Henry Loeb | 15 years, 5 months ago

Lively show is a must-see for all

"Hairspray" first burst on the entertainment scene in the form of John Waters' 1988 film celebrating large people, drag humor and desegregation. For the past three years, the show has been a hit on Broadway and in Baltimore. In July, a touring company brought the lively musical to the Kennedy Center Opera House for a six-week run.

The plot of "Hairspray" is surprisingly simple: fat girl dreams of dancing, gets on the TV show "American Bandstand," gets the guy and desegregates dancing in the process. But don't let the simple plot line fool you; "Hairspray" is tremendous fun, with humor aimed at politics, racial prejudice, obesity and sexism, all intertwined to make any audience roar with approval.

The leads are Tracy (Keala Settle), her mother Edna Turnblad (John Pinette in drag), Wilbur Turnblad (Stephen De Rosa) and Corny Collins (Paul McQuillan). Tracy is the musical's soul with her resonant voice, puffy hairstyle and political and racial wisecracks. Edna, the gargantuan mother, is basically a second lead, with her hilariously self-mocking fat jokes. She and her husband Wilbur are quite the double act with their abilities to crack each other up and at the same time delight the audience. Finally, there is Corny, who is constantly dueling with Velma Von Tussle. He is the DJ for the "Corny Collins Show" and is not afraid to take a stab at desegregating his show.

In addition to the superb cast, the show is a visual cornucopia of flashy, wild and glittery 60's outfits, with the females sporting enormous beehive and bouffant hairstyles. The boys are splendidly attired in gaudy gear for dancing, including the occasional Hawaiian shirt and the shocking pink suits worn by Corny Collins. Meanwhile, Edna lumbers about in her drab outfits until she enters Pinky's Hefty Hideaway and becomes a whole new woman.

All the action takes place on an incredible set that changes rapidly to suit the scene. The design crew has put together a group of simple set pieces, each with a multitude of uses. For instance, Tracy's bedroom becomes both the front of her house and three different bathrooms. The entire back wall of the stage is a board of neon lights that can flash words or pictures or just bathe a set in light pink and various neon colors. The back wall also becomes a shadow board for silhouette dancers — the townspeople in the opening scene and the jail girls in the jail scene.

The energy of the production is most evident in the choreography. Actors move through whole thought processes in dance and then seamlessly return to their original frozen positions. The cast manages to execute classic 60's dance moves, disco maneuvers and early forms of dirty dancing to the vibrant rhythms of "negro" music disco music and rock and roll.

Finally, the venue for "Hairspray," the Opera House of the Kennedy Center, provides ample space to accommodate the orchestra and the huge crowds that "Hairspray" draws. More importantly, the superior acoustics of the space make the performance of "Hairspray" even more spectacular. "Hairspray," which runs through August 21, is a must-see for all, young and old.

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Henry Loeb. Henry Loeb is a teen who would like nothing better than to play X-box all day long. He is a little obsessed when it comes to Halo 2 and Fable but he doesn't let that get in the way of his writing abilities. In the … More »

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