Tuesday night’s snow, ice and cold may have thinned the audience at the IU Auditorium but only slightly and a good crowd greeted opening night of the musical "Hairspray." The show offers plenty of stiffly teased hair but there are no other teases in this high energy, straight ahead, comic comedy.
The show takes on the social issues of weightism and racism with a few jabs at sexism and ageism. It’s just full to the brim with lots of music, plenty of dancing and a good hearted war on social causes. It’s all done at the safe distance in space and time from Baltimore in 1962.
The star of the "Hairspray" is chunky Caucasian Tracy Turnblad, played by the winsomely chunky and talented Brooklynn Pulver. Her dream is to be on the Corny Collins afternoon TV dance party. Tracy loves to dance, but her real motive is to be near her dream hunk, Link Larkin played by lean Elvis Presleyish, Constantine Rousouli. Tracy’s got lots of optimism, energy, dance talent and a few special moves that she’s picked up from Christian White, who plays the outgoing Seaweed Stubbs, one of the African American kids that she meets in after school detention. Tracy faces stiff opposition from the girls and especially from the producer, Velma Von Tussle, played with a delightfully evil touch by Happy McPartlin. Despite all this, Corny Collins himself, Jarret Mallon, sees some promise in Tracy and she makes it onto show.
Now that "Hairspray”s Tracy has overcome the prejudices against weight on the TV show, she’s on to tackling segregation. She did the weight issue pretty much by herself, but here she has to rally support from her family, the African American community and even some of the Caucasians. There’s plenty of spirited dancing and singing as things get together and even a nice turn by a classy girl group, The Dynamites; Vedra Chandler, Ms. Gnomiagre, and the pride of Jeffersonville, Indiana, Nikki Stephenson.
Throughout Tracy’s campaigns she’s supported without reservations by her best friend, the shyly charming and self effacing bubble gum blowing Penny, played by Alyssa Malgeri. There are plenty of reservations from Tracy’s mother, but she is won over links up with Yvette Monique Clark who plays Motormouth Maybelle a leader in the African American community and becomes a solid supporter of her daughter and her causes. Mrs. Turnblad is played by the gravel voice Jerry O’Boyle who fits nicely into the role made famous by John Waters’ original actor Divine.
Does dancing, even very accomplished and spirited dancing with solid singing from the leads and the harmonizers, lead to persons being valued for themselves, for their individual qualities regardless of weight, age, sex and race. Well, I’ve got my doubts, but it sure does in "Hairspray."
"Hairspray" has two more performances, Wednesday and Thursday night at the IU Auditorium.
You can hear an interview with Nikki Stephenson on our Arts Interviews page .