(photos by Ed Krieger)
Written by Alina Mae Wilson
Good news everyone, obesity cures racism. We’ve done it. All this time we thought racism was a result of historical and societal pressures placed on individuals and cultures in masse to keep the power hierarchy in check, but it turns out it was just one or two bad people the whole time. All you need is one fat hero to step in and save the day, and everything else will just fall in place. As if you needed to be told, I am talking about the musical Hairspray, currently playing in all its creamy and gelatinous glory over at the Laguna Playhouse.
It is 1962 in the unrecognized gem known as Baltimore, Maryland. Segregation is being upheld based on the reasoning “Well, it’s just the way things are.” Tracy Turnblad is an overweight, white teenager who wants to dance on a teen pop show. She also has some black friends that she thinks should be allowed to perform on the show with her. So she decides to stand up against the oppression and discrimination that they face by fighting for their right to dance with her and therefore desegregate the program.
The Laguna Playhouse was clearly expecting a great turnout for this production, and they were not disappointed. Every seat in the audience was filled. They even had people in the balcony upstairs. Small photo booths and faux red carpets were set up outside. For people new to the Laguna Playhouse, the seats are comfortable and fairly spacious, so I don’t think you’ll have trouble finding your spot –just make sure you arrive with enough time in advance to locate parking outside. There are meters and a parking structure nearby, but it’s the summer so you never know.
The set and costumes look nice. Bold, primary colors are abundantly displayed. The oddest thing visually is probably Tracy’s outfit. Nicole Powell (Tracy) is not fat, so they belted some pillows around her or something and called it a day. Every aspect of her performance is solid, so I understand the casting choice. It’s just funny to see her little limbs sticking out of the mini mattress she’s plopped into.
Hairspray’s score is catchy. It really is. You will absolutely walk out of the theater tapping your toe and humming to the unstoppable beat. The cast does a good job of singing it. I can think of a few instances where actors sound out of breath or struggle to hit a note, but these moments are few and far between. If you are a die-hard fan of the music, there is no reason why you shouldn’t come. As Tracy, Nicole Powell has a lot of songs to sing. Fortunately, she is a pleasure to listen to, as are most of the other singers. It is also worth mentioning that the character interaction and blocking during some of the songs are strong enough to really let us see what the characters onstage are thinking and feeling.
Back in 2007 I watched the film version of the musical with my friends, and we had a good time making fun of it. It didn’t have a lot of substance, and most everything about it just came off as goofy. Because movies are often take a step down from the productions they are based on, I expected the live version of this to be something of an improvement on the movie, but it’s not. Like the film, the stage version does not have much substance. It’s like a pile of whipped cream and sprinkles, which might be ok if that’s what Tony award winners Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan were going for. I don’t think it is, or at least it isn’t written that way. I think we as audience members are genuinely supposed to be inspired by the optimism and courage of this one teenager and her fight for equality for all. I know this is a popular show, but I really don’t think this is suitable material for children even though it has been toted as bring “suitable for children.” Segregation was a big deal. Racism is still prevalent in society today, and people are still fighting for dignity and respect. Hairspray is not the most offensive thing out there, but it is not the most impactful either.
The cast has done a great job here. They sing well, act well, and dance well. Story wise I find it bland and absurd. However, there is an abundance of catchy songs, and at intermission the cast came out and offered to teach audience members a dance. So if you are feeling so inclined, check your brain at the door and go visit the Laguna Playhouse.
July 5 – August 5 , 2017
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