There is an infectious energy that starts with the opening beats of San Diego Musical Theatre’s HAIRSPRAY at the Horton Grand Theatre that grabs the audience and doesn’t let them go. There is no need to ask what gives this show power and punch, because with this top notch cast, the choreography, and the sense of joy in the telling, because you just know that it’s HAIRSPRAY.
Based on the movie of the same name by John Waters, this show follows the plucky and plump heroine Tracy Turnblad (Bethany Slomka) in her goal to get on the “Corny Collins Show”, become a lead dancer, snag the shows heartthrob Link as her boyfriend, and combat racism and segregation by fully integrating the show.
Tracy’s mom Edna (John Massey) worries that Tracy will get hurt when people are mean to her since she doesn’t have the standard body type. Encouraged by her dad Wilbur (Steve Gunderson) Tracy goes to the audition with her best friend Penny (Emma Nossal), who is excited but nervous to defy her strict mother’s instructions to go straight home.
By sheer force of will, and a few dance moves she learns in detention from her new friend Seaweed Stubbs (Kenneth Mosley) Tracy gets on the show. Bolstered by her new found fame, but displeased with the unfairness of segregation on the dance show, Tracy finds wisdom support from Seaweed’s mother Motormouth Maybelle (Eboni Muse) leading Tracy to defeating the show’s reigning queen Amber (Lauren King Thompson), and Amber’s scheming producer mother Velma (Eileen Bowman). Is there anything that a girl with big dreams and a good hairdo can’t do?
Slomka’s Tracy is a confident, if dreamy, bubbly character who believes in herself, her friends, and her belief that some things, like her determination to integrate the dance show (and while she’s at it lets integrate America as well) are not only possible but instantly achievable. She wants to be famous, wants to be loved, and as she says at the top of the show she wants to “eat some breakfast and then change the world.” One thing she never wishes for is to be slimmer; she’s quite happy the way she is thank you very much.
Slomka is slightly more aggressive in her attraction to Link than other Tracy’s you may have seen, but it doesn’t detract from her sweetness. It just makes it a bit more believable this this character comes from a John Waters’ movie universe.
Muse, as Motormouth Maybelle steals the show with her fantastic voice. Her rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been” is a second act showstopper, leaving the cast and the audience both inspired and tears in their eyes by the end of the number.
Massey and Gunderson are standouts as Tracy’s parents; their rendition of “Timeless to Me” is a master class in a comedic duet.
Mosely as Seaweed brings an amazing voice and some sweet dance moves to the show as he teaches Tracy in detention, and woos Penny with his smooth vocals. Nossal as Penny is lovable as the nervous girl who flourishes when she meets Seaweed.
Zackary Scott Wolfe is effortlessly comical as Corny Collins; he’s charming and funny as he encourages Tracy’s dream of integrating the show. The interplay between him and Slomka during “It Takes Two” is particularly entertaining.
Thompson is perfectly snobbish as the superior and scheming Amber. Bowman is primly cunning as the racist and ambitious television producer.
I could list every name in the program, but honestly this entire cast is top notch.
Luckily, under the excellent direction of J. Scott Lapp this talented cast is used to the best of their abilities to bring this entertaining and optimistic show to stage. Choreography by Jill Gorrie is high energy and fun, and enhanced by the musical direction of Don LeMaster. Andrew Orbison conducts a stellar orchestra from off stage.
With a goal for the future stated in the closing song, “cause tomorrow is a brand new day, and it don’t know white from black” the show is still as relevant as ever. While racism can’t be fixed by a few songs and some dance numbers this show is a nice, bright reminder that the world (or even your local community) can be changed for the better by anyone, regardless of their size, shape, or ethnicity.
San Diego Musical Theatre’s production of HAIRSPRAY is playing at the Horton Grand Theatre through September 2nd. For ticket and show time information please go to www.sdmt.org