Monday, July 9, 2012
Theater review: Hairspray at Greater Lewisville Community Theatre
Admirable at producing a very large show in a very small space.
Hairspray (presented by Greater Lewisville Community Theatre through July 29) is an upbeat and unique musical with nuances that enhance the relevance while at the same time may be distracting to some. Hairspray is set in Baltimore in the heart of the African-American civil rights movement. The message it sends is an important and relevant one in today’s society as we continue to see issues related to tolerance and acceptance of our differences.
The show centers around a television dance show in the American Bandstand genre called The Corny Collins Show. Teenagers have been encouraged to try out for a spot that has been left vacant by one of the female dancers. Tracy Turnblad, an overweight teenage girl, decides to try out for the spot. She meets with resistance immediately, as her large mother tries to discourage her from auditioning because she is afraid her daughter will be ridiculed for her size. Tracy’s experiences with the television show and her friendship with a group of African-American teenagers lead her to the revelations that are such a large part of the message of tolerance that the show delivers in an entertaining and comedic way.
The musical numbers are sometimes vaudevillian and the contrast between the lighthearted fare and the deeper meaning behind the words makes for an interesting intellectual dip into the comedic world.
Greater Lewisville Community Theatre is a small venue. Hairspray is a large musical with big dance scenes and a large cast. This production made an attempt to scale down the musical while still delivering the big musical numbers. Although the choreography by Michael Anthony Sylvester and Eddie Floresca was as would be expected from a big musical like this, the performance seemed unorganized and chaotic. I know the dancers were all doing their moves correctly, but because of the “crowd” on stage it didn’t look as polished and synchronized as it could have had the stage been larger.
The set, designed by Chris Robinson, was simple and consisted mostly of rotating panels used to change the scenes from the Turnblad home and the Corny Collins show to a high school location and a jailhouse. The small space occupied by the Turnblad home made it difficult for the larger-than-life character of Edna to be showcased as much as it deserved to be. Overall, the scenery was sufficient to reflect each location and the jailhouse scene was very well done, with the combination of the choreography of Stewart and Floresca and Robinson’s set design.
The lighting was designed by John Damian, Sr., often seemed to be misplaced or the actors had trouble finding their spot as there were many times when the actors would be in the dark. The sound, (also designed by Damian), consisted of a nice, live orchestra that provided the score for the show. Unfortunately, their sound was very loud, and in this small space that meant I often could not hear the lines being spoken and the singers had a difficult time being heard.
For the most part the costumes by Carl Ramsey were period and appropriate with the exception of a few minor errors such as Link’s running shoes.
Eddie Floresca has been a choreographer in the Dallas-Fort Worth theater community for many years so this show was a good fit for him to make his directorial debut. The cast was well prepared for this opening night show and they worked well together as an ensemble. Their energy was always high and that energy seemed to transfer to Friday night’s enthusiastic audience.
There were several noteworthy performances in the show. Tess Moore provided a strong performance as Tracy Turnblad. She portrayed a thoughtful, caring yet fun teenager naturally. Her voice was also strong but unfortunately was lost in the volume of the orchestra. I would have liked to have heard her voice more – what I did hear of it was lovely.
The role of Penny Pingleton, Tracy’s best friend, was nicely portrayed by Jamie Ecklund. Her portrayal of a somewhat nerdy wallflower and loyal friend was consistently funny and entertaining without being over the top. Pingleton was eventually brought out of her shell and it was revealed that Ecklund was a very talented dancer and singer as well. Her performance was the standout of the evening.
Neely Jonea’ as Motormouth Maybelle was especially enjoyable. The persona she portrayed was exactly what the role called for. Her vocals during the song “I Know Where I’ve Been” easily carried over the orchestra and became my favorite song of the evening. Its message was strong and her singing was beautiful.
Another very strong voice was that of Simone Gundy who played Lorraine and one of the Dynamites. Every time I heard her voice soaring over the audience I found myself wishing for more.
Hairspray is known to cast the role of Edna Turnblad with a male actor. In the film version John Waters cast his muse, Divine. In the Broadway production it was Harvey Fierstein. Initially, this may seem like a drag queen sort of a role, but it isn’t and Doug Fowler seemed a natural for the part. His mannerisms and attitudes were not over the top and added to the entertainment without becoming clownish. I especially enjoyed his duet with Gary Payne who played Tracy’s father, Wilbur. The pair worked well together and their spotlight duet “You’re Timeless to Me” was well-deserved and enjoyable.
Overall, this production was admirable at producing a very large show in a very small space. The energy of the cast, combined with the comedic exposure of a serious issue hat still faces us today made the experience quite enjoyable.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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