The official summer theatre of the state of Georgia chose the blockbuster musical Hairspray as its third show of the 2011 summer musical season. This has been one of the most frequently done musicals all over the country in the past two years. Based on the 1988 John Waters movie, its opening was a hit from the start, with audiences at 99% capacity for the first year. It had a six-year run with over 2,600 performances and won eight Tony Awards.
The PSST Peach State Summer Theatre (PSST!) production could not be any better. If all aspects of this production were Olympic events, their score would be a straight 10 across the board.
The story of Hairspray is based on events related to Baltimore’s real-life “Buddy Deane Show” that was on the air from 1957-1964.
The plot centers around the Turnblad family in 1962 in Baltimore. Tracy Turnblad is a cute plus-size teenager with determination. Tracy shrugs off taunting name-calling, like “Tracy Tugboat” and instead heeds the words of her father Wilbur (Andrew Edward Thomas, Jr.) who says “you have got to think big to be big.” And think big she does, as she plans to earn a spot on the Corny Collins Television Teen Dance show, hosted by the affable Michael Elliot as Corny. But she does not stop there as she also wants to win the affection of her teen idol Link Larkin (Kyle Downing) and to win the title of “Miss Teenage Hairspray of 1962” as well. Further, Tracy also wants to end the show’s policy of racial segregation, which limits Afro-American participation to one show a month, designated as Negro Day. Tracy’s ultimate ambition is to become President of the World and declare everyday Negro Day. Sara DelBeato presents a remarkable performance as Tracy and the show’s signature song, “Good Morning Baltimore” has never been sung better anywhere. DelBeato’s boundless energy, great comic timing, and fabulous dancing is engaging throughout.
Tracy has the wonderful support of her tough-talking and also plus-sized mom, Edna, a role always played in drag. H. Duke Guthrie gives a larger than life performance, starting as a frumpy looking housewife who takes in laundry to help the family finances. As Tracy progresses toward winning her goals, Edna emerges in trend-setting clothing and a new hairdo and she and Tracy become known as “the doublewide twins,truly living Edna’s motto: “the bigger the girth, the more the worth!!”
Hairspray has a number of zany characters that make you laugh loud and long. Laura Wright is Penny, Tracy’s shy and introverted best friend who falls for the very cool and hip black dancer, Seaweed (Jonathan Butts), much to the chagrin of Penny’s racist mother, Mrs. Pingleton (Leslie Putnam).
Barbara Dare Thomas plays Velma Von Tussle, a bigoted TV show producer who is determined to have her spoiled daughter Amber (Hillary Smith) win the Miss Teen contest at any cost. Ms. Thomas sings one of the funniest numbers in the show “The Legend of Miss Baltimore Crabs.” Miquela Rivers, who was impressive as the Panther in The Jungle Book just four hours earlier on the same stage, is Motormouth Maybelle, Seaweed’s mother and the host of the monthly Negro Day on the Corny Collins Show. She belts out a great song, “I Known Where I’ve Been.” The Dynamites (Ashley Adams, Antoinette Comer and Jocelyn Martin), dressed in slinky clinging red dresses and looking very much like The Supremes, belted out another crowd favorite, “Welcome to the 60’s.” Joined by the entire cast, this song will have you dancing in your seat!!
PSST! has an outstanding ensemble with cast members who play various roles and dance up a storm to Jacque Wheeler’s choreography. They include Nathan Cohen, Stephanie Peterson, Tim Olivar, Sarah Beth Moseley, Joshua Barcol, Hannah Trowell, Chance Wall, Jeffery Clifford, Dani Miguel, Jacobi Hall, Steven Issac Rice, Ashdyn Neal, Leslie Putnam, and Megan Wheeler.
The set design by Ted Hansen features a number of locations, and includes inner-city brick buildings, Corny’s television study with oversize vinyl records in the background, a large jailhouse with cells that can be easily disassembled, and a giant can of hairspray.
The costumes by Esther Iverson and wig design by Tera Willis reflected the times, with short full skirts, and hair piled high for most occasions. However, they pulled out all the stops for the final scene, with glamorous formal dresses and outrageous hair, that Marie Antoinette would have envied.
The show was directed by Randy Wheeler, with Musical Direction by Paul Neal, who was hidden away offstage with the excellent orchestra.
Hairspray has been such a success because it has everything you could want in a musical: catchy tunes, witty dialogue, and an inspiring story. In the PSST! production the plus factors include superb voices, spectacular sassy and funky dancing, and a cast that obviously loves performing.
Hairspray continues with evening performances at 7:30 on July 1,5,7,9, 13, and 15. Sunday matinee performances are at 3:00 pm on July 3 and 17.
Call the box office at (229) 259-7770, or you can find Peach State Summer Theatre on any search engine on the internet. Why not plan a musical theatre vacation this year, just a two-hour drive from Jacksonville to Valdosta which is truly, as it bills itself, “America’s Friendliest City.”