Thursday, March 14, 2024

"Hairspray" on tour at the Ordway Center

20 years after premiering on Broadway and winning eight Tonys, Hairspray is back on tour, and it's as fun, infectious, and inspirational as ever! The tour stopped at the Orpheum in Minneapolis last year, but I missed it, so I hadn't seen a production since 2015 at Artistry. It's one of my faves (I saw the tour twice in the mid-aughts, as well as the Chanhassen's production in 2011), so it was more than time for another visit to this big-haired and big-hearted version of 1960s Baltimore. Thankfully the Ordway is hosting this super fun and high energy tour for one short week and there are limited tickets still available through Sunday, so head to downtown St. Paul to watch the nicest kids in town dance and sing about anti-bullying, inclusion, and integration.

At this point I'm sure everyone's seen some version of Hairspray, whether the original moviethe musical based on the movie, or the movie based on the musical based on the movie. Normally this would be a recipe for disaster, but this story is so rich and music-filled that each iteration works. Despite not looking like the prim and proper skinny girls on her favorite TV show, The Corny Collins Show (think American Bandstand), Tracy wins a spot on the show and begins to dance on TV. She can't understand why her "colored" friends can't be on the show, so she arranges a protest and is promptly thrown in jail. But she gets out, continues towards her goal, wins the boy of her dreams, and achieves racial harmony through dance.*

Deidre Lang as Motormouth Maybelle (photo by Jeremy Daniel)
Who knew that 2002 Broadway musical based on a 1988 movie set in 1962 would still be so relevant in 2024. Tracy Turnblad is a heroine for the ages, proving that a young woman who doesn't meet society's standards of beauty can live a happy and fulfilling life, fall in love, and enact social change (all while dancing and singing!). And more than 60 years after the fictional events of the show take place, we are still traveling that road towards racial equality. Protests are still a major tool for achieving a more just world, and we've seen a lot in the last few years, bringing an even greater poignancy to the song "I Know Where I've Been." Lyrics such as "there's a road we've been traveling, lost so many on the way" and "there's a struggle that we have yet to win" mean even more today.*

Edna and Wilbur (Greg Kalafatas and Ralph Prentice Daniel)
(photo by Jeremy Daniel)
This new tour uses the same scenic and costume design (by David Rockwell and William Ivey Long), and employs a new director and choreographer but based on the original (why mess with Tony-winning success?). The design is colorful and kitschy, with layers and layers of curtains and drops, some 2D Baltimore rowhouses, and a few cute little platform sets rolled out for the Turnblad house and other locations. Costumes are a bright colorful 1960s dream, the wigs higher than gravity allows. The '60 style dancing is so infectious, it's hard to sit still in ones seat, and the score is fun, fast, and endlessly singable. Don't worry, there's a chance to sing and dance post curtain call.

This fantastic touring cast is led by the effervescent Caroline Eiseman, performing with boundless energy as Tracy. The other star of the show is Greg Kalafatas as Tracy's mom Edna, the heart of the show. Ralph Prentice Daniel completes this sweet and supportive family of three (the Edna/Wilbur duet "Timeless to Me" a charmer). Other highlights include Skyler Shields as a swoon-worthy Linc (his Austin Butler looks working for him in the Elvis-esque numbers), Scarlett Jacques as Tracy's adorkable bestie Penny, Josiah Rogers as a super smooth Seaweed, Kaila Simone Crowder with tons of spunk as Little Inez, Deidre Lang bringing down the house as Motormouth Maybelle, and scene stealers Micah Sauvageau and Emmanuelle Zeesman in multiple comic roles.

The story moves briskly and smoothly through a few days in the lives of these endearing Baltimoreans, problems fixed in the blink of an eye. If only we could heal our divisions by singing, dancing, and laughing together. But maybe it's a start.

it's true, you can't stop the beat! (photo by Jeremy Daniel)