By PAM HARBAUGH
You sure can’t stop the motion of the ocean when it comes to Titusville Playhouse’s high octane production of the musical “Hairspray.” It gets going from the first moment and takes you on a fun ride with its vibrant energy, exciting production numbers and loving message.
This “Hairspray” (written by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan) is the stage musical version of the 1988 John Waters film. It opened on Broadway in 2002 and ran a most enviable seven years, and became a movie musical in 2007 starring John Travolta. The story is set in 1962 Baltimore and revolves around Tracy Turnblad, an unlikely hero who gets cast into a TV dance party, “The Corny Collins Show.” A troublemaker, she is sent to her high school’s detention, populated only by black students. She befriends them, learns some cool new dance moves and is determined to integrate the dance party. Romantic subplots concern out of the ordinary couples.
At its essence, the story is about acceptance across color lines, economic lines and even that final barrier that hasn’t been broken — size lines.Kate Zaloumes, a professional actress who performs at Universal’s “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” here brings fun, spirited life to Tracy Turnblad. Her strong voice easily sails through “Good Morning Baltimore” and “Welcome to the ’60s.” As she should, her Tracy fills the stage with bright-eyed optimism that she the world will be inclusive of all and be better off for it. Although she’s far from being a popular girl, Tracy falls in love with handsome dance party regular Link Larkin, played with heartfelt appeal by Alexander Browne, a professional actor with quite the range.
Tracy’s best friend is Penny Pingleton, a repressed teenager portrayed with goofy verve by Sarah Biggs, a talented newcomer to Titusville Playhouse. It is Penny, a very white girl, who falls in love with a black teenager played with leading man dash by Alvin Jenkins, a naturally gifted actor with powerful stage presence.
Steven Heron takes on the jab-in-the-ribs role of Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s mother, bringing her from hausfrau modesty to showstopping diva. Mr. Waters first wrote this role for a man — his cult actor known as “Divine.” Harvey Fierstein played Edna in the Broadway show and, in the second movie, Mr. Travolta famously portrayed her. And Titusville audiences have been waiting all season to see Mr. Heron in this role. (Mr. Heron is not only a professional actor, he is also Titusville Playhouse’s beloved artistic director.) He is a dream in “Timeless to Me” sung with Edna’s husband, played with winning charm by Greg Coleman (he performs in Orlando’s improvisation based show, “SAK Lab Rats”).
Kristen Sellars and Courtney Stump are a hoot as the bad guys — the skinny blond popular mother/daughter duo, Velma and Amber Von Tussle. (Amplification of Velma’s voice does need to be louder, however.)
Shari Milia’n oozes warmth in her portrayal of Seaweed’s mother, Motormouth Maybelle; and 12 year old Gabrielle Blake is a sweet, talented delight as Little Inez (we look forward to seeing more of this young lady). And Benjamin Youmans paints the perfect style to TV personality Corny Collins.
Titusville’s production is directed and choreographed by Alexander Nathan, who does an outstanding job with his talented cast. His choreography is both character and lyrics driven, pulling in early ’60s dance steps (the Mashed Potatoes, the Jerk, the Pony, the Stroll) and works in exciting concert with Marc Shaiman’s and Scott Wittman’s bouncy, fun music.
Mr. Nathan and his stage manager, Katie Monfet, move this show with a seamless, fast-paced clip (congrats to the stage crew). With his pop of turquoise and pink, “Laugh-In” style line, and atomic retro-futurism motif, Jay Bleakney’s scenic design is right on target. His multiple scenic units bring easy shifts, adding polish to the show’s pace. William Gibbons-Brown’s sleek lighting design captures the uninhibited essence of the ’60s and also paints with restraint some of the quieter moments.
This is simply a wonderful production. You’ll be hard pressed to stay in your seats. In fact, during curtain call, you are invited to stand up and dance (in place) with the cast. And that’s a very nice thing because it looks like they are having so much fun. Don’t miss this.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Hairspray” runs through Feb. 7 at Titusville Playhouse, 301 Julia St., Titusville. Tickets are $22 to $26 with $2 discounts available to students and seniors 60 years and older. Call 321-268-1125, visit TitusvillePlayhouse.com, or just click onto the ad on the right side of this page.