Theater Review: “Hairspray”

Starlight Theatre
Kansas City, Missouri

With one of the most energetic productions you could ever hope to see, “Hairspray” is a beat you just can’t stop. Currently playing at Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri, the national tour of the hit Broadway musical, which won eight Tony Awards in 2003, is a delightful show overflowing with wonderful dance choreography, terrific vocals, and a timeless story about the power of love.

In 1988, the first incarnation of “Hairspray” was released in movie theaters with Ricki Lake in the lead role as Tracy Turnblad. Crafted by director John Waters, the film’s screenplay was based upon a 1950s and 1960s era Baltimore dance party television program called the “Buddy Deane Show.” That real life program served as the inspiration for the fictional “The Corny Collins Show,” an equally popular show in our story set in June 1962.

An overweight high school girl named Tracy Turnblad (Niki Metcalf), who gets in trouble at school for having “inappropriate hair height,” dreams of being on the dance show. So, it’s no surprise that she begs her shy, overweight mother, Edna (Andrew Levitt) for permission to go to an audition being held for a newly opened dance spot. Edna refuses out of fear Tracy will be ridiculed because of her weight. However, Tracy gets permission from her happy-go-lucky father, Wilbur (Christopher Swan) who is always encouraging her to pursue her dreams.

Edna’s world changes forever after her arrival at the television studio where Corny Collins (Billy Dawson) hosts his show. She swoons over teen heartthrob Link Larkin (Will Savarese), gets in the crosshairs of the show’s racist producer Velma Von Tussle (Addison Garner) and her prima donna daughter, Amber (Kaelee Albritton), and sees firsthand the ugliness of racism, which ultimately pushes her to be an agent for change.

Metcalf is nothing less than a pure bundle of delightful energy while on the stage. Her vocals were spot-on all the while she was seemingly forever dancing across the entire Starlight venue. Still, the most memorable moments of the opening night performance came first during a duet between Levitt and Swan. Their characters are suddenly destitute, but they express with humor and love how they can never part from one another in the sweet song “You’re Timeless to Me.” It easily produced some of the night’s biggest laughs. The moment that completely stole the show, though, came when Sandie Lee as Motormouth Maybelle, a confident and strong-willed downtown record shop owner and host of “Negro Day” on “The Corny Collins Show,” belted out “I Know Where I’ve Been.” After lots of humor, it was a starkly serious moment in the production as Motormouth sings about the struggles against racism. It was powerful and soul stirring. If it had been at the end of the show, it would have brought about a standing ovation from the audience. Lee’s voice was superb and the emotions she put into the song struck a chord with everyone there.

Overall, “Hairspray” provides a rousing night of entertainment for all.

“Hairspray” will run through June 12th at Starlight Theatre.

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