What a tease
Drury Lane’s ‘Hairspray’ lives up to musical’s bouffant charm
Watching the infectiously funny, playfully subversive, talent-filled revival of “Hairspray” now at the Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre, it is impossible not to think of Dick Clark, who died last week.
True, this hit 2003 musical — inspired by John Waters’ 1988 cult film, and featuring a bubbly, hiply comic score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman — is set in 1962 Baltimore, while Clark’s teen dance show, “American Bandstand,” was rooted in nearby Philadelphia. But the “Hairspray” celebration of the huge social changes of the early 1960s, with the explosion of rock ’n’ roll and civil rights activism, and the sexual revolution and more, suggests a shared mindset, even if Clark took a somewhat more mainstream approach to things than Waters. And in her jubilant Drury Lane production, director-choreographer Tammy Mader, who’s one of several mega-talented women to emerge on the Chicago musical scene in recent years ,blithely captures elements of both approaches.
From the moment the wide-eyed, plump-as-a-dumpling high schooler Tracy Turnblad (the irresistible Lillian Castillo) opens her eyes and pops out of bed, with her massive bouffant hairdo intact and her irrepressibly sunny, open-hearted, determinedly optimistic spirit ready to greet the world, you sense this is someone who will not be deterred. Initially, her dream is to compete in a dance contest on “The Corny Collins Show” (Rod Thomas plays the likable Clark-like figure), and maybe even meet teen idol Link Larkin (an ideal Eric Altemus).
But as things progress, Tracy finds herself campaigning for racial integration as she champions the right of black dancers, as well girls like herself (far from the standard slim, blond beauty) to be on the show. To be sure, the times, they are a-changin’. And girls like Amber Von Tussle (Holly Laurent), a chip off the block of her mother,
www.drurylaneoakbrook.com the “Collins Show” producer Velma Van Tussle (Keely Vazquez in Cruella de Vil mode) are going to face some serious diversity competition.
The story’s wink-wink subversiveness begins at home, with Tracy’s full-size, self-doubting, blue-collar mom, Edna (played in drag by Michael Aaron Linder, who is real and funny, and gives Divine a run for “her” money), and her small, warm-hearted dad, Wilbur (Tim Kazurinsky), the owner of a joke shop who urges his daughter to pursue her dreams. Tracy, an outcast at school, bonds with her fellow students in detention hall: a group of black kids, among them the super-charged dancer Seaweed J. Stubbs (the droll, marvelously elastic Jon-michael Reese), whose mom is Motormouth Maybelle (Felicia Fields, who brings her fully soulful spirit and voice to the party), fabled owner of a record shop in a black neighborhood.
Mader, herself an ace danceractress, has created a production marked by speed, lightness of touch, easy humor and sensational dance numbers. Castillo, with extensive credits in regional theater, is instantly lovable as she dances up a storm in her totally geeky plaid skirt and white blouse, falls head over heels for Link and endures the horrors of a women’s penitentiary.
Rebecca Pink (as Tracy’s nerdy pal, Penny Pingleton) and Holly Stauder (as Penny’s prudish, bigoted mom, Prudy) are right on target in the show’s third motherdaughter relationship. Alexis J. Rogers, Donica Lynn and Lisa Estridge sing up a storm as the Dynamites, the black girl group. Seizing the spotlight as Seaweed’s sister, Little Inez, is 12-year-old Joshlyn Lomax. And the ensemble of dancer-singers on the “Collins” show twist and shout with verve. Rarely has a social revolution been so much fun.