Theater Review: Fireside Theatre’s Hairspray a hit
By Bill Beard
Hairspray, the musical now at Fireside Dinner Theatre, is the Broadway hit based on the famous 1988 film and the 2007 remake, which starred John Travolta (in drag and in a huge “fat suit“) as the very over-stuffed mother of the chubby teen-aged Tracy. The promo describes the plot as: “Set in Baltimore in 1962, Hairspray is the story of pleasantly plump teen, Tracy Turnblad, who does whatever it takes to fulfill her lifelong dream of appearing on the popular Corny Collins Show. But can this plus-size trend-setter in dance and fashion vanquish the program’s reigning princess, win the heart of heartthrob Link Larkin, and integrate a television show without denting her fabulous ‘do’?”
Whether you are old enough to have actually enjoyed the ’60s, or whether you saw one of the movie versions and loved it…you absolutely must not miss this production at Fireside! It is great! In fact, I went to see it twice!
“Local boy steps into leading role!” could be a second headline here. When I saw the show opening weekend, where I had seen the talented Darryl Winslow play the famous John Travolta drag-mother role of Edna, and was told that on the following Wednesday and Thursday the role would be played by the understudy Kyle Adams, I was delighted. Adams is a graduate of Rockford College and has been in shows here in the stateline area several times, including major roles at Rockford’s well-known professional Artists’ Ensemble.
Having known Kyle’s work for several years, I just had to see what he would do with the wonderful challenge of playing the role of a hugely overweight housewife who becomes a celebrity overnight. So, I drove the short 45 minutes to Fort Atkinson, Wis., again. I had an incredibly good time…again!
I won’t try to compare Kyle’s performance to that of the regular Edna, Darryl Winslow, because I obviously would be prejudiced. But I will say that Winslow is excellent; I might actually say that I found him even better than Ross Lehman, one of Chicago’s most respected professional actors, who played it last year at Marriott Lincolnshire. Winslow was right on target.
But Adams stepped into this unusually demanding character role with such confidence and command that one would just assume he’d been playing it for weeks. This is a young (early 20s) recent college actor, whose job was to don a huge “fat suit” (which, by the way, could definitely have used some additional adjustment), accomplish a series of wig changes, plus several complicated changes of costumes (which were made for Winslow, who already had the natural bulk to fill them out), and then tackle head-on the major challenges of acting, singing and dancing, in high heels yet, as a middle-aged, reclusive, dumpy hausfrau, and finally to convince us of her “coming out” as a vivacious, glittery-coutured and beehive-bouffanted femme fatale. He accomplished all that, and more; he made Edna so endearingly funny and so lovable throughout the whole show, that one could not resist loving her.
But wait! This is a review of the whole production. You probably won’t see Kyle Adams as Edna (unless he needs to step in for Mr. Winslow again). But never fear. Winslow is marvelous, and it is he who originated this role here, and his brilliance is surrounded by a cast full of equal talent and professionalism.
LenaMary Amato, in from New York, is an irresistibly charming Tracy, with a good voice, strong acting command and is also an amazing, light as air dancer, absolutely necessary to this role. In fact, this entire cast, including a perfect multiracial and multi-talented ensemble, is one of the most energetic group of dancers I’ve seen lately. Somehow or other, Ed Flesch and Choreographer Kate Swan, with the musical direction of Mary Ehlinger, always come up with a wonderfully talented group of performers.
For example: Outstanding work by the magnificent Kelly Lamont as the bitchy TV producer, still claiming fame as the former “Miss Baltimore Crabs”; the much-loved Michael Haws, whom I’ve reviewed here and at Marriott Lincolnshire many times, putting exactly the right light touch to the sensitive role of Wilbur, the father (especially in the humorous but touchingly beautiful duet with Edna, “You’re Timeless To Me”); the strong and vibrant singing voice and lovable innocence of Trisha Hart Ditsworth, as Tracy’s best friend, Penny Pingleton; Mathew Schwartz as the consummate television DJ host of the Corny Collins Show; and Eric Keiser as Link Larkin, the heartthrob of that show and Tracy’s dream boyfriend.
Filling out this strong supporting cast are Sydney Dever as the Miss Diva Daughter, Amber Von Tussle, Daniel Bentley as Seaweed J. Stubbs, Tracy’s dance inspiration partner, Naimah Z. Saleem as prize-winning dancer Little Inez, and the powerful voice of Karen Marie Richardson as Motormouth Maybelle, the host of the Corny Collins Show’s once-a-month “Negro Day,” which Tracy is determined to expand to “Every day is Negro Day”!
Hairspray is two-and-a-half hours of hilarious comedy, superb dancing and a nostalgic reminiscence of the wonderful age of rhythm ’n’ blues! But it is much more. It is a strong, open, yet in its way, subtle and poignant reminder of the transition the 1960s was going through in the fight for integration and change. It deals explicitly with the search for the “beauty within” and the acceptance of “who we are,” skinny or fat, pretty or plain, black or white. It’s a lesson America is still trying to learn. This is a wonderful way to remind ourselves of that goal. Go! Hairspray plays through Oct. 31.
The Fireside Dinner Theatre, Ft. Atkinson, Wis.: 800-477-9505 or firesidetheatre.com.
From the Sept. 15-21, 2010 issue
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