‘Hairspray’ Beat Is Unstoppable

“You Can’t Stop The Beat”!

This pulse-pounding song ends The Barn Theatre production of “Hairspray” which opened Tuesday evening in the Augusta, MI playhouse.

Tracy Turnblad (Rachel Grindle) realizes her dream to dance on TV in The Barn Theatre production of HAIRSPRAY.

Like many other numbers in the Tony Award-winning score, it is definitely one that remains in your mind long after the curtain closes on the saga of Tracy Turnblad, her (almost) sky-high “do”and her winning impact on the young people of the city of Baltimore.

The roots of this “Hairspray” go back three decades to 1988 and the original black-and-white film by director John  Waters. It came to Broadway in 2002 with book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Shaiman and ScottWittman and earned eight Tony Awards, including best musical. It ran for six years before launching national and international tours and became one of the most popular choices of professional and amateur theaters in the world.

TV host Corny Collins (Jonnie Carpathios) shares the mike with Tracy Turnblad (Rachel Grindle) as Amber Von Tussle (Rachel Mahar, left) looks on in The Barn Theatre production of HAIRSPRAY.

The bottom line is that a good production of “Hairspray” means a really good time, no matter how often you have seen it, and The Barn production is most definitely a good one.

The main character is Tracy Turnblad, a slightly overweight teen with an unsinkably positive outlook and a beehive hairdo (remember those?). As played by Rachel Grindle, she has an absolutely infectious personality and a voice that, when necessary, can raise the roof. The last is shared by several of the principal players, most notably Shinnerrie Jackson as record shop owner Motormouth Maybelle and Kasady Kwiatkowska as Tracy’s  BFF Penny Pingleton. In addition to giving a scene-stealing comedic performance, Kwiatkoska also choreographed the many high-energy dance routines.

The surprise of this production, however, comes in the person of the actor who plays Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s equally overweight mom. In a wig and overly-sufficient padding, Robert Newman (yes, THAT Robert  Newman) obviously is having a great time in plus-size drag, complete with pumps and purse and appropriate avoirdupois! His second act duet “You’re  Timeless To Me,” with Charlie King as hubby Wilbur, is a real show-stopper.

Motormojth Maybelle (Shinnerrie. Jackson) delivers a message of hope to teens in her record shop in The Barn Theatre production of HAIRSPRAY.

Ditto Jackson’s incredibly relevant “I Know Where I’ve Been,” a tribute to self-awareness and self-confidence that has the power to bring the audience to its feet.

Just for fun, however, it’s difficult to beat Penelope Alex as Tracy’s TV nemesis, Velma Von Tussle, deliver the  self-congratulatory tale of her rise to fame as “Miss Baltimore Crabs” or the enthusiasm of Jonnie Carpathios as Corny Collins, host of the TV teen dance show (based on a real 1960s Baltimore show) or the sinuous moves of Maybelle’s son,  Seaweed J. Stubbs (Este’Fan Kizer), who would be at home on the basketball court.

Tracy’s determination to desegregate the Corny Collins Show, which currently features Negro Day dancing once a month, lands her in jail where she and Link Larkin (Ian Lah) discover their love.

His determination to win a recording contract, however, derails their relationship but only until the really rousing finale.

Okay. You know it has to come but it still gets cheers when the final can of hairspray opens!

Under the direction of Hans Friedrichs, this “Hairspray” is the perfect way to spend two hours!

Velma Von Tussle (Penelope Alex) describes her win as Miss Baltimore Crabs to Fender. (Derek Gully) in. The Barn Theatre production of HAIRSPRAY.

The era-appropriate costumes of designer Taylor Burke made me glad that crinolines are no longer the undergarment of choice, The bright colors, especially on the sequined Dynamite Trio, the dancing teens  and everyone in the finale, were  in keeping with the positive message of the show.

Samantha Snow’s flexible scenic design features triangular pillars that rotate to fit the location, plus one moving platform for the Turnblad home.

The energy of the entire cast plus the toe-tapping score and the much-needed (especially today) reminder of the necessity for social change make “Hairspray” even more relevant.

The one jarring note (literally) is the way-too-loud band under the direction of Matt Shabala. The decibel level of the drums and the keyboard frequently eliminated the vocals and often made all lyrics unintelligible. It is a matter of balance which hopefully can be remedied,

HAIRSPRAY plays through July 1 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit www.barntheatreschool.or

 

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