Theater Review: ‘Hairspray’ a fabulous ‘do at Munopco
The Munopco Music Theatre production of “Hairspray: The Broadway Musical” is adorable kitsch.
Munopco “Hairspray” director Susan McDermott, and assistant director Vince Rostkowski, get it right: a mix of 1960s’ dance-craze nostalgia, in excellent choreography by Suzanne Baltsar, with dance captain Caitlin McLemore; in exuberant singing, with robust direction by Julius Sarkozy; in catchy costumes, with fabulous frocks and thrift-shop chic by McDermott, and clever set design, with pastel palette by McDermott, and lighting by Jonathan Tobias.
In the fun, upbeat and uplifting Munopco production, “Hairspray” is a wonderful ‘do.
“Hairspray” concluded its one-weekend run, June 28-July 1, Scottish Rite Cathedral, Allentown. The 8 p.m. June 29 performance was seen for this review.
What’s best in the Munopco “Hairspray” is the unabashed enthusiasm of the huge cast (I counted 48, but who’s counting?) that gives it their all in the best sense of community theater, which “is” Munopco, founded in 1927 in Allentown and in its 91st season believed to be the longest-running municipal opera-theater troupe in the United States.
It’s great to see a preponderance of youth and diversity on the stage of Lehigh Valley theater, which “Hairspray,” with its timely and pertinent themes of inclusion, is well-styled for.
“Hairspray” has local roots. The Tilted Acres amusement park scenes for the original film, released in 1988 and noting its 30th anniversary, were filmed in the summer of 1987 at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom, South Whitehall Township.
The film became a hit 2003 Broadway musical, nominated for 13 Tony Awards and received eight, including best musical. In turn, the musical became a 2007 movie musical and was telecast as “Hairspray Live!” in 2016 on NBC-TV.
With book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, “Hairspray” holds up because it retains much of the impish wit, outre perception and laugh-out-loud dialogue of the original film, written and directed by John Waters.
The musical has some fine numbers, including the anthemic show-opener, “Good Morning Baltimore,” sung proudly by Alexandria Austin (Tracy Turnblad), entertaining in song and dance throughout the show, and by the show’s Company.
The following two numbers, “Nicest Kids In Town,” sets up the show and its characters nicely, with Colin J. Walsh (Corny Collins), on “The Corny Collins Show” set, evoking the appropriate combination of TV announcer sincere insincerity, and by the Council Members.
The second of these two numbers, “Mama I’m A Big Girl Now,” in three simultaneous scenes, with Richard Warmkessel (Edna Turnblad), rendering the role with the right touch of bombastic insecurity, and Austin (Tracy) in their Baltimore, Md., home; Beth Linzer (Velma Von Tussle) and Lexi Rastelli (Amber Von Tussle), each evoking a hateful mother and daugher combination that you somehow feel sorry for; Christine Dunbar (Prudy Pingleton) and Shannon Cornish (Penny Pingleton), the latter in one of the show’s breakout performances as a sweetly seductive nerd and then, in a terrific transformation, as a geek gone wild, and with a forceful Women Ensemble.
Liam Mulligan (Link Larkin) has a good turn as does Dan Rambo (Mr. Pinky).
Among the standout numbers that come fast and furious in “Hairspray”:
“Welcome To The 60s” with Austin (Tracy), Warmkessel (Edna); the dynamic Ali Santos, Krystle Tate and Deboorah D’Haiti (The Dynamites), who sing with thrilling harmonies, dance up a storm and wear eye-popping over-the-top showgirl outfits, and a great Company;
“Run And Tell That,” with Tyree Scott (Seaweed J. Stubbs), a tremendous dancer and the show’s other breakout performance, and a cute Detention Crew;
“Big Blonde And Beautiful,” with Florence Taylor (Motormouth Maybelle), who is the heartbeat of the show; Nasheera Brown (Little Inez), who has a memorable voice; Austin, Warmkessel, Robert Adams (Wilbur Turnblad), affectionately funny as Edna’s husband, and The Company;
“I Know Where I’ve Been,” the show’s profound message. powered by Taylor’s big, beautiful gospel voice, and The Company.
“Hairspray” puts the finishing touches on the ‘do with the concluding rouser, “You Can’t Stop The Beat” with Austin; Liam Mulligan, very much the teen heartthrob as Link Larkin; Cornish; Scott; Taylor; Brown; Warmkessel; Adams, and Company turning up the volume in song and dance.
“Hairspray,” the original film by John Waters, was ahead of its time in addressing social issues of bullying, fat-shaming, diversity, celebrity culture, the cult of personality, women’s issues, and the white supremacy, black lives matter and me too movements.
It’s done without the divisive rants of social media, dim-witted TV pundits, and rancorous podium-addicted politicians.
Instead, it’s all dolled-up with great joy, seamless entertainment, a danceable beat, and even a touch of actual hairspray.
Kudos to Munopco Music Theater for bringing “Hairspray” back to life in the Allentown and the Lehigh Valley, where it was partly-born. As John Waters might say (as he emailed to me): “Quite a life that old gal HS has!”
Indeed, the Munopco production of “Hairspray” hits it out of the park.