“Hairspray” is loaded with great voices and zany characters

THEATRE JACKSONVILLE REVIEW

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Theatre Jacksonville and Acosta Sales & Marketing present the blockbuster musical “Hairspray” on stage at 2032 San Marco Avenue in Jacksonville, Florida during June 12-27, 2015. For reservations, call 904-396-4425 or visit theatrejax.com.

The musical, which is based on a 1988 John Waters film, debuted on Broadway in August, 2002 and was a big hit from the beginning, with audiences at 99% capacity for the first year. The story is based on events related to Baltimore’s real life “Buddy Dean Show,” a popular televised teen dance show that was on the air from 1957 to 1964. The play received eight Tonys, and had a six-year run with over 2,600 performances. “Hairspray” remains one of the most popular musicals of recent years, and the opening night audience at Theatre Jax loved it.

The plot centers around the Turnblad family in 1962. Tracy Turnblad is a plus-sized teenager with determination. She shrugs off taunting name-calling, and instead heeds the words of her father Wilbur, who advises “You’ve got to think big to be big.” And think big she does, as she campaigns for a spot on the Corny Collins Television Teen Dance Show, hosted by the genial Michael Cejvanovic as Corny. But Tracy’s aspirations extend beyond showing off her dancing skills on the small screen; she wants to win the affection of America’s teen idol, the handsome crooner Link Larkin (Elias Hionides) and to win the title of “Miss Teenage Hairspray of 1962” as well. The ambitious Ms. Turnblad also wants to end the studio’s policy of racial segregation, which limits the participation of Afro-Americans to one show each month, designated as Negro Day. Tracy’s ultimate goal is to become President of the World and declare every day Negro Day.

Ilana Gould is remarkable in the role of Tracy; vocally stupendous, with boundless energy and great timing, and the best Tracy we’ve seen or heard during our many viewings of “Hairspray.”

Tracy has the support of her mom, tough-talking and also plus-sized Edna, a role always played in drag. Kurt McCall, in a larger than life performance, first appears as a frumpy housewife who takes in laundry to help with the family finances. As Tracy progresses toward her goals, Edna emerges in a new hairdo and trend-setting clothing. She and her daughter live up to the motto “the bigger the girth, the more you’re worth.”

This spectacular version of Hairspray is loaded with great voices and zany characters. Katie Sacks is Penny, Tracy’s shy and introverted friend who falls for Seaweed (Tyrone Lennon), a cool and hip black singer and dancer, much to the chagrin of Mrs. Pingleton (Eileen Briggs), Penny’s racist mother. Jennifer Medure who has a marvelous singing voice, plays Velma Von Tussle, a bigoted TV show producer who is determined to have her attractive but spoiled daughter Amber (Maci McDuffie) win the Miss Teen contest at any cost.

Angela Roberts appears as Motormouth Maybelle, the mother of Seaweed and Little Inez (Kaila Milan Justice) and the hostess of the monthly Negro Day on the Corny Collins Show. Ms. Roberts belts out a roof-raising “I Know Where I’ve Been.” The Dynamites (Felecia Yvonne EwingIsabella MartinezIsabella Martinez, and La Tara Osorio), dressed in slinky red dresses and looking very much like The Supremes, back Motormouth as they plan to bring about full integration of the Collins show.

One of the most delightful numbers in the show, “You’re Timeless to Me,” featured the stage husband and wife team of Edna and her husband, Wilbur. Isom Steve Philips, appearing in the first musical of his stage career, dances the soft shoe number and sings the duet with style and humor.

Brad Trowbridge in the dual roles of Mr. Pinky and Mr. Spritzer displays his fine comedic talents, which he has honed over the past 28 years on stage at Theatre Jacksonville.

Seaweed’s friends, who congregate at Motormouth’s record store, include Joel Gardner Oliver, Jamil Abdur-Rahman, Adia Scott, Taylor Payne, and Darnell Bennett.

Hairspray has twenty songs, all dazzlingly performed, with a large contingent of male and female dancers and singers who are constantly on and off stage in each scene in various colorful costumes appropriate to the action. They include Sadie Schneider, Jeremy Ferri, Zach Polendo, Leanne Gullo, Drew L. Brown, Winter Hughes, Andrew Ratliff, Leighton Baruch, Clayton Ridley, Samantha Wicklund, Ryan Arroyo, Jonathan Leonard and Lexi Inks.

The absolutely fabulous orchestra was led by Music Director Jay Ivey, as conductor and on keyboard, with Tommy Harrison (guitar), Peter Mosely (bass), Greg Hersey (drums), Don Reynolds (trumpet), and DeAndre Lettsome (reeds).

Kudos and welcome to Kimberly Burns, in her debut as Costume Designer, and congratulations on your awesome creations. Kudos as well go to Wig Designer Mickey Leger, who has spent over 100 hours designing and caring for the lovely wigs that are a critical component of the show .

Stage Managers are the unseen components of a hit show, especially musicals. Hairspray had two very experienced stage managers, in Ashley Jones and Sabrina Rockwell.

The versatile David Lynn Dawson served as technical director, and designed both the set and the lighting. Audie Gibson was on the lightboard; Mark Rubens was the sound board operator.

Casting and directing a show of this size and complexity is demanding, and Curtis J. Williams not only did the casting, but directed and choreographed it as well. He directed with great savoir faire and an unerring sense of tone. Bravo, Mr. Williams! Bravo!

As we were exiting, we heard many excited theatre folks saying this was one of the best musicals they had ever seen on the Theatre Jacksonville stage. We certainly agree; and it is a fun, fun show, very professionally staged with excellent singers and dancers. Don’t miss it!

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.

october, 2021

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