INDIANAPOLIS — Hairspray might not offer the most in-depth examination of race and racial attitudes.
Nevertheless, this big-hearted, tuneful and sweet, (yet not saccharine) Broadway favorite from 2002 remains a refreshing reminder. It’s one that we need especially today.
Among other things, the multi-award-winning Hairspray reaffirms how a little activism, teamwork and solidarity can effect change – even if that change seems minor. Plus, tales of underdogs overcoming odds and succeeding never seem to go out of style. Add to that equation songs that stick in your mind. Then, include timely, positive messages about inheriting self-worth and advocating for your beliefs.
With all this in mind, it’s no wonder that Hairspray, based on the popular 1988 John Waters’ film, remains popular. This popularity is widespread, from professional actors to student thespians and theatergoers.
Fortunately for Midwestern audiences and visitors to that region, Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre in Indianapolis has deemed the show worthy of staging. The show is running through Oct. 6 in an exuberant production.
Certainly, it takes a team effort to bring about positive change. In addition, teamwork is necessary to mount a successful show.
To their credit, Beef & Boards’ team has succeeded in many aspects. However, judging from the reviewed performance, sometimes it is hard to understand the performers when they are singing. Whether it’s malfunctioning microphones, the live musicians drowning out performers or another reason, technical staff needs to address this issue if they haven’t already done so.
On the positive side, an exuberant, infectious spirit suffuses this show. It’s enough to make you want to clap along, tap your toes, sing along or even get up with the performers and dance.
Under Eddie Curry’s vivacious direction, the performers sometimes enter and exit from the audience. As a result, we often feel we’re a part of the characters and their world. It is early 1960’s Baltimore. Of course, this was a time eerily similar today, with 2019’s racial divisiveness, if not segregation (thank God!).
Scenic designer Michael Layton has opted for a colorful, yet simple set design. This choice allows us to focus on the characters and the story. Therefore, as is often the case in live theater, we must use our imagination to place us in the setting. Regardless, Layton’s design offers ample space for the performers to move.
Speaking of movement, this cast deftly executes Ron Morgan’s vibrant choreography. For instance, the performers mostly remain in sync with each other. This includes the “pleasantly plump” Tracy Turnblad (a spirited Adee David).
As any fan of Waters’ film or the live musical knows, Tracy’s a heavyset, cheery and positive young woman. She possesses a zest for life as well as healthy and admirable ambitions. Tell her overweight folks cannot dance, and she’ll prove otherwise.
In fact, against the odds, Tracy fulfills her dream of dancing on a popular TV show. If that isn’t enough, she even wins a contest on the program.
However, Tracy also sets out to fully integrate the show, which is segregated except for once a month. Surely, it sounds like a big task. But in the musical, everything appears to happen with surprising speed. Seemingly within 24 hours, Tracy becomes a celebrity, falls in love with the coveted teen heartthrob (a dashing Nate Willey) and integrates the show. It seems as easy as 1-2-3.
Even so, you’ve got to admire Tracy’s indomitability and willingness to stand up for those who are different.
David invests Tracy with an endearing awkwardness. She speaks in a somewhat nasal voice but injects an infectious enthusiasm and dreamy quality in Tracy. When she places her hands on her heart and her facial expression registers hopefulness, you surely feel for this young woman. This is especially true when Tracy sings the dreamlike “I Can Hear the Bells.” It sounds like a Christmas carol, as though falling in love with Link Larkin would amount to the best Christmas present ever.
David may not have the strongest singing voice. Still, she dances with verve and proves nimble.
Meanwhile, in the traditional cross-dressing role of Tracy’s mother, Edna Turnblad, Daniel Klingler is at turns soft-hearted and commanding. But he’s always funny in his flamboyance as well as touching, particularly in the intimate duet, “Timeless to Me.” Edna sings this with Tracy’s father, Wilbur (a loving, bighearted and funny Curry, also the production’s director).
The 1960’s-style dance music and “downtown” rhythm and blues score by Marc Shaiman (composer) and Scott Wittman (lyrics, along with Shaiman) is varied. At times, the music is bright and upbeat. Other songs are comic and soulful. For the most part, the performers possess strong, expressive singing voices. Further, they can hold notes for an impressive number of seconds. Individually and as a group, they deliver strong vocal performances – that is, when we can fully understand them.
Musically, the true soul of Hairspray is “I Know Where I’ve Been.” The character leading the cast in the song is Motormouth Maybelle. Tarra Conner Jones plays her with wisdom, grace and spunk. She’s certainly no annoying “motormouth.” In fact, as you watch and listen to Jones, she might remind you of the class, grace and soul with which the late Della Reese invested her angelic character in TV’s Touched By An Angel.
By contrast, Amy Decker plays villainess Velma Von Tussle with such arrogance and superiority, you want to slap her. At the same time, Decker turns her into a comic character. In particular, the performer’s evil laugh suggests a witch.
And Sarah Daniels nicely conveys a bratty nature, self-loving demeanor, as well as a sense of privilege in the role of Velma’s daughter, Amber.
Director Curry finds the right balance in the production. Specifically, he places the right amount of emphasis on moments which are heartfelt, humorous, inspirational and nostalgic.
All-in-all, the director leads a Beef &Boards team that serves up a high-octane, touching and humorous production. It proves as tasty as the show itself – and the theater’s sumptuous, pre-show, buffet-style meal.
Hairspray continues through Oct. 6 at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre, 9301 Michigan Road in Indianapolis. For Weekday/Saturday evening shows, doors open at 6 p.m., with the buffet open from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and the show at 8.
Meanwhile, weekday matiness begin with doors opening at 11 a.m., the buffet available from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and the show at 1 p.m.
On Sunday evenings, doors open at 5 p.m., the buffet is open from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and the show at 7.
For Saturday and Sunday matinees, staff open doors at noon, with the buffet open from 12:15 to 1 p.m. and the show at 1:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $45-$70 and includes a dinner buffet, fruit and salad bar as well as select beverages.