Who Redhouse Arts Center
Where 201 S. West St. Syracuse
When Through Dec. 15
Tickets $15-25; $10 for students
Review by Josh Austin
It’s a musical filled with big hair and huge voices.
Hairspray, The Redhouse’s latest production, channels everything gaudy. A subversive accolade to the ‘60s, this musical brings a retrospectively packaged pop-driven, glammed up feel to an extremely shaky era.
Based on John Water’s 1988 cult film favorite, Hairspray confronts the issues of racism and intolerance head on, pushing the fiery boundaries of interracial mingling for a conservative Baltimore in 1962. The 2002 musical by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan produces a comedic story with touching moments and a satisfying ending, ultimately showcasing the lighter side to an unstable era.
This production marks the second show of the Redhouse’s Theatre Experience Program. Teaming together 12 inner-city youths and local and professional actors, director Steven Svoboda has put together a tight, talented performance of varying degrees. Throw the ensemble of 34 into on constricted stage and the show might seem a little crammed, at first.
Yet, set designer Tim Brown gussied up the tiny stage to allow for a breathable breath of hairspray. Like that of a teenage girl, the set was sporadically—though carefully—cluttered. Lined with beauty shots of hairstyles, the Redhouse
transformed itself into a chintzy, nostalgic theater reppin’ the ‘60s.
This vintage tale follows the pleasantly plump Tracy Turnblad (Krystal Scott) on her journey to integrate the Dick Clark-esque “Corny Collins Show.” Along the way, Tracy dances into trouble as she jives with the wrong crowd, according to those who enjoy segregation.
Scott delivers a boisterous Tracy. With all the charm of loud-mouthed teen, Scott plays a vulnerable, but no-nonsense kid with simple innocence. Flowering from girl to woman throughout the show is refreshing as she progress from “Good Morning Baltimore” to “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” Scott is purely charming as she presents a pure-hearted Tracy.
Matching Scott’s charisma is the hunky Link Larkin, played by Andrew Mauney. Containing boyish charm, Link’s subtle sexual innocence complements nicely to Tracy’s extroverted nature. Mauney has the perfect pop-infused voice that makes girls quiver for Link.
Maureen Harrington, playing the old-fashioned, diva Velma Von Tussle, portrays a sincerely grotesque character. At times, Harrington’s voice comes off as constrained and hazy, but only as the show progresses, does the reserved nature of her singing take on a stifling villainous feel in “Miss Baltimore Crabs.” The antithesis of Velma is the big and proud Motormouth Maybelle, played to perfection by Debra Thais. Each forceful note that Thais sang induced goosebumps.
Equal parts nerdy, quiet and hilarious is Kaleigh Pfhol as Penny Pingleton. Pfhol has this shy, extremely mousy stage presence, but her quirky one-liners and surprisingly sultry voice stole many of the scenes.
Of course, what is Hairspray without a man in drag performing the role of Edna, Tracy’s mom?
Playing off the wig hairs of Harvey Fierstein, Steve Hayes, gives a hilarious performance of the ample momma. Although his voice is not as cloudy as Fierstein’s, Hayes’ Edna is reminiscent of the infamous performer. Mixing his low baritone and stretched alto for the part, Haye’s impersonation of the open-minded, yet reserved mother captures the camp that is littered throughout the script. Although he starts to spoil his character with the “low voice” gag a little too much, Edna was a shining point in this production.
The best thing about Hairspray is that it is a musical that has serious issues but doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a show that is works with heavyweight voices, literally. It’s a show that translates to more than those who lived in the ‘60s and to more than those who simple dazzled by groovy songs.
The whimsical, campy musical has meaningful fluffiness that grabs hold of youth and revolution, all the while exhausting that can of hairspray on teased out hair.