Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's recent review of The Prom
The show is set in 1962 Baltimore at a time when music was changing from soft pop to rock and rhythm and blues, the cool kids watched afternoon TV dance shows, and racial integration was at a crossroads. The plot focuses on Tracy Turnblad, a teenager who dreams of dancing on the local afternoon TV teenage music and dance show "The Corny Collins Show" and falling in love with the show's heartthrob Link Larkin. The fact that Tracy is on the chubby side, while all the kids on the show aren't, doesn't stop her from going after her dreams when a spot on the show opens up. When she comes up with the idea of finding a way to integrate the TV program, it doesn't sit well with the show's racist producer Velma or her daughter Amber, who just happens to be Link's girlfriend.
The original Broadway production won eight Tony awards including Best Musical as well as ones for the exceptional score by Marc Shaiman (music and lyrics) and Scott Wittman (lyrics) and the hilarious and moving book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan. It's nice to see a full-scale tour of the show that uses expert re-creations of the original Tony winning direction and costumes by Jack O'Brien and William Ivey Long, respectively, Tony-nominated choreography by Jerry Mitchell), and scenic (David Rockwell) and lighting (Kenneth Posner) designs. For the tour, the direction, choreography, and lighting are re-created by Matt Lenz, Robbie Roby, and Paul Miller, respectively, and the scenic designs have been paired down slightly from what Broadway audiences saw twenty years ago, with some additional video designs by Patrick W. Lord. Also, Paul Huntley's excellent wig designs from the original production are also featured here, with additional designs by Bernie Ardia.
There isn't a weak link in the non-Equity cast. With excellent comic timing and a singing voice that soars, Niki Metcalf is a knock-out as Tracy. Her exuberant portrayal easily makes the audience fall in love with Tracy and root for her to succeed. Andrew Levitt is exceptional as Tracy's mother Edna. The film and all other productions of the show I've seen have always used a man to play the part of Tracy's mother Edna, but not always someone who is known to the drag community. Levitt has appeared as his drag persona Nina West for over 20 years and even competed on season 11 of "RuPaul's Drag Race." Levitt has sharp comic timing that gets big laughs, a lovely singing voice, and an abundance of power and warmth in his portrayal.
While most of the supporting characters are fairly stereotypical in nature, the cast work well to flesh them out and bring them to life. Ralph Prentice Daniel has the right combination of charm, love and humor as Tracy's quirky, nerdy, oddball father Wilbur. Daniel and Levitt have a lot of fun playing off each other, and their duet "Timeless to Me" is perfect in how it shows how the characters are still in love with each other with both a sweet sincerity and a few fun and risqué lyrics and moments. It's also a joyous crowd pleaser. As Motormouth Maybelle, the host of the one "negro day" a month that "The Corny Collins Show" airs, Asabi Goodman is wonderful; her delivery of the rousing number "I Know Where I've Been" is a showstopper.
Skyler Shields is great as Link, with a rich singing voice and nice dance moves. As Tracy's quirky friend Penny Pingleton, Emery Henderson is hilarious. Addison Garner throws herself into the villainous part of Velma with glee, and Billy Dawson is very good as TV show host Corny Collins. Ryahn Evers is great as the catty Amber Von Tussle, and Charlie Bryant III has sensational dance moves as Seaweed J. Stubbs, Motormouth Maybelle's son who falls for Penny. Also, Joi D. McCoy is bright as Little Inez, Seaweed's sister, and both Greg Kalafatas and Emmanuelle Zeesman, who play several adult characters in the show, shine with hilarious portrayals. The ensemble all sing well, dance up a storm, and have fun playing a range of characters.
After seeing numerous productions of this show over the past 20 years, it's nice to see Hairspray on a tour that re-creates the original direction and designs. Hairspray is not only a great musical, it's also a touching social commentary on race, anti-bullying, and how, as the musical states several times, you've got to "think big to be big."
Hairspray runs through June 25, 2023, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.asugammage.com or call 480-965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit hairspraytour.com
Original Director: Jack OBrien Cast: