The musical delights again, thanks to Zilker Theatre Productions' stellar cast and quality staging
Reviewed by Elissa Russell, Fri., July 17, 2015
As rainbow flags are raised and stars and bars are lowered, America finally seems to be opening up a long-overdue discussion on acceptance and equality. One of theatre's many jobs is to help facilitate such crucial discussions for both avid theatregoers and those who have never seen a play. Zilker Theatre Productions is currently doing just that – not through the dramas of Wilson or McNally as one might expect, but instead with Hairspray, the teased-up, campy, multiple Tony Award-winning musical that tackles issues ranging from body image to racial injustice.
The play centers on the pudgy and plucky Tracy Turnblad, who aspires to be a dancer on The Corny Collins Show, a dance program on Baltimore TV. Though Tracy is radical and forward-thinking for a teen in 1962, the program is not, still relegating black dancers to their own separate show, heinously dubbed "Negro Day." Samantha Bagdon gives a spirited and lively performance as Turnblad, her sweet voice and seemingly unending energy bringing just the right amount of campiness to the table. The same is true of Kristin Hall, who gives an equally vivacious performance as Turnblad's naive best friend, Penny Pingleton.
Fresh from a fantastic turn as Amos in Austin Playhouse's production of Chicago, Scott Shipman again wows audiences as Tracy's big and bold mother, Edna. Whereas his last character was meek and understated, Edna commands attention. The role requires a strong presence, but also a sensitive approach and some nuance since it's played in drag. Shipman's portrayal hits all of these necessary points – his Edna, though she provides much of the show's comedy, is less an over-the-top caricature and more a realistic woman. This becomes especially clear in "(You're) Timeless to Me," a tender duet between Shipman and Craig McKerley, who plays husband Wilbur. The song helps the audience forget that Edna is played by a man, while displaying the character's heartfelt devotion to her family.
Also making the move from Twenties Chicago to Sixties Baltimore is Jacqui Cross, who plays Motormouth Maybelle. The role is uncannily similar to that of Mama Morton in the previous musical, but, as usual, Cross belts out one impressive note after another, drawing roaring applause from the audience.
As the bigoted mother-daughter duo of Amber and Velma Von Tussle, Cara Smith and Megan Richards Wright play their roles with the perfect conniving and vile air. In a stellar cast, perhaps the most notable performance comes from Vincent Hooper as Seaweed J. Stubbs. Even while dancing in the chorus, his talent is eye-catching, but he all but steals the show with his singing in "Run and Tell That," exuding charisma all the while.
The entire cast exhibits great talent, bringing The Corny Collins Show to life via Karen Olson and David Ponton's fun and quirky American Bandstand-esque choreography. The production overall is high quality, beginning with Paul Davis' striking set design, which captures a TV set, the set of The Corny Collins Show, and the streets of Baltimore all at once. Carl Booker's costumes are one of my favorite elements of the show; I found it particularly clever that they begin monochromatic when the dancers are trapped in the black-and-white world of the TV show, but as the play steamrolls toward equality and acceptance, they become brighter. In his final design work before leaving Austin, Jason Amato once again provides superb lighting, rounding out the visual feast this team has created.
HairspraySheffield Zilker Hillside Theater, 2206 William Barton Dr., 512/479-9491
Through Aug. 15
Running time: 2 hr., 30 min.