By ALAN SMASON, Theatre Critic, WYES-TV (“Steppin’ Out“)
When composer and lyricist Marc Shaiman and his writing partner Scott Wittman opened Hairspray: The Broadway Musical 15 years ago, there could not have been an expectation as to how well-received and how pervasive the musical, based on the same-titled 1988 John Waters film, would become. Summer Lyric Theatre at Tulane is presenting just one of four separate local productions, but this one, which opened on Thursday night and closes on Sunday, July 16, promises to be the one by which the other three will be measured.
To start, SLT artistic director Michael McKelvey, who directed this production, put in two ringers: two native New Orleanians who had previous experience and success with their roles. In the central figure of Tracy Turnblad, he cast Kristin Collura, a standout in the role on the national tour of Hairspray. As her mother Edna – a role traditionally played by a man – he selected comic actor, singer and writer Sean Patterson, who played the role in the regional premiere and three-week run that bowed here seven years ago at Le Petit Theatre.
Collura has no problem dancing up a storm and belting at the same time. Her experience as Tracy gives her an incredible advantage that no other company could enjoy. She does not disappoint. Her voice is clear and carries throughout the house. While Patterson’s comic timing was spot on, his microphones were not at the preview on Wednesday night. Much of his vocal efforts were drowned out by others in key numbers. As to his ability to don a bra and make it look real, he did so in a way that would make original cast member Harvey Fierstein proud.
Frankie Thams, who was the lead in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last summer, returns to play opposite Collura as Link Larkin, the dreamy dancer and singer on the local TV hop show. The total package of pipes and physique makes Thams an amazing leading man.
Playing opposite Patterson as her love interest and Tracy’s father Wilbur Turnblad is the multi-talented and redoubtable Bob Edes, Jr. His comedic timing is flawless as he tries to guide his teenager during her difficulties. The duet between Wilbur and Edna in Act II (“You’re Timeless To Me”) is as perfect as could be imagined.
Jacqui Cross as Motormouth Maybelle tears down the house with her 11th hour rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been” and leads the ensemble in “Big, Blonde and Beautiful,” the Act I closer.
Playing her son, Seaweed Stubbs, is Polanco Jones, Jr., a triple threat last seen in Ain’t Misbehavin’ at the National World War II’s BB’s Stage Door Canteen stage. His big number “Run and Tell That” with Hannah Hubbard playing his sister, Little Inez, allows him to put on some serious moves on the stage.
Also quite familiar with the BB’s Stage Door Canteen boards is Victory Belle Mandi Ridgdell, who plays the scheming teenage queen Amber Von Tussle. Ridgdell more than holds her own in this, her SLT stage debut, but she is overshadowed by Kali Russell, who plays her mother, Velma Von Tussle, and is both hilarious and menacing as the racist producer of the Corny Collins Show.
Speaking of Corny Collins, Keith Claverie plays the role of the TV host and his rendition is so seasoned and exciting that it places all others seen previously on New Orleans stages in second class status. He is nothing less than mesmerizing.
Andrea Watson and Emerson Steele play mom Prudy Pingleton and daughter Penny respectively. While Steele also enjoys several scenes opposite Jones as Seaweed’s interracial love interest, Watson plays a number of other supporting characters such as the Matron of the Big Dollhouse. Also pulling down triple duty is Ken Goode, who plays dressmaker to the large Mr. Pinky, the school principal and Ultra Clutch hairspray president and show sponsor Harriman Spritzer through a succession of wig and costume changes.
Attention is paid whenever Jessica and Whitney Mixon and Shangobunmi McAlpine appear on stage as the three Dynamites. Based on soulful girl groups like The Supremes or Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, these ladies literally stop the show every performance.
First-time music director and conductor Jefferson Turner held the baton in the Dixon Hall pit for the first time and put his live musicians through their paces with absolute agility and ease.
McKelvey’s direction keeps the show moving along, but Jauné Buisson’s choreography is also exceptional and brilliant.
With a show labeled for a hair product, one might think that the wigs from Glenda Wolfe (who also did makeup) might have been a bit showier and outrageous. They did do in a pinch, but there was a feeling that an opportunity was lost there.
The set by Rick Paul with assistance from Derek Blanco was well executed and the lighting by Daniel Zimmer was also noteworthy.With the exception of the microphone problems that have plagued previous productions as well, Stewart Becnel’s sound design worked well.
“Hairspray: The Broadway Musical” continues at Dixon Hall with the final matinee to be held on Sunday, July 16 at 2:00 p.m. For tickets call 504-865-5269