I’ve had the honor of covering a few musicals lately and the one I went to on Tuesday night absolutely took the cake for me. I knew nothing about Hairspray when walking into the gorgeous Orpheum Theatre but I had a feeling I was going to be in for a treat. That being said, I think I underestimated just how much of a treat I was going to get.
Okay, a quick synopsis of the musical. Set in 1960s Baltimore, this musical turned into a movie is about a teen who becomes an overnight celebrity by way of becoming a dancing queen on a popular variety show-type program. even though the odds were stacked against her. It’s pretty crazy how timely the themes of this performance are. From racial issues to body image and self-empowerment– this just hit on so many levels that are so important these days and I think that just added to the magic of the night. The two-and-a-half-hour musical follows Tracy Turnblad’s journey from self-acceptance to fame with plenty of hijinx and heart-warming moments on the way. I want to tell you so much more about the plot of this musical but, the truth is, either you’ve already seen the musical (or movie) so you already know, or, you haven’t and I don’t want to be the one that ruins the plot so I will just leave it there.
The casting of this performance was beyond perfect. Everyone fit their role so perfectly and there was never a point where I felt like the spotlight was being stolen. Everyone had the spotlight when it was their specified time and they truly shined as bright as the next performer. Of course, Niki Metcalf who performed as Tracy Turnblad, had plenty of time in the spotlight as she rightfully deserved but she allowed the other performers to take over which really stood out to me. Another thing that stood out to me was me recognizing the performer who played Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s mom. It ends up that this role was performed by Andrew Levitt or, as I know him, Nina West from the 11th season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. It was a bit shocking to put that together and I would be lying if I didn’t seem to perk up even more whenever he graced the stage but that didn’t stop me from enjoying all of the performers wholeheartedly.
The set design of this performance really set the tone without much to it. There really weren’t many props or giant set changes throughout the musical yet I was transported to so many places throughout. My favorite setting was when they brought out “buildings” to help convey the feeling of being in downtown Baltimore. There was one point where we got to see a billboard featuring three gorgeous singers literally come to life. The women climbed out of the side of the building where they had been posed and gave the audience a perfect rendition of “Welcome to the ’60s”. The trick on the eyes of them coming out of this billboard was so subtle and so small in the grand scheme of this performance but it was just so cool and a moment that, even after sleeping on it, I couldn’t seem to get out of my head.
I really loved the way that, throughout the performance, references to Minnesota were made. From bringing up “going to the land of 10,000 lakes” to a moment when, after a recess scene featuring a pretty brutal game of dodgeball, the quirky gym teacher said it was time for “duck duck grey duck”, I just really loved the personalization. It really helped connect the audience to the performance in a way that I just haven’t been able to experience lately. Another way they connected with the fans was, right after the intermission, the conductor of the pit orchestra came out from under the stage and got the entire audience to dance as the intro music started and flowed into the second half. Again, such a small moment in a brilliant night but it’s a moment that I think really set the tone of the room in a perfect way.
I was in show band back in high school. I’m not sure if show choir is a universal thing so, long story short, it was a group of singers (and band members) that would perform in sparkly outfits with way too much makeup and hairspray. We would perform songs that spanned many genres from ballads to rockin’ oldies. I was in the pit band for show choir throughout high school and one year we did “You Can’t Stop The Beat”. I honestly had no clue where that song had come from but as it started coming through the speakers at the Orpheum as Hairspray wrapped up, I couldn’t help but have minor flashbacks of my days on a stage and, although a very personal and intimate moment, it was a moment that was just the icing on the cake to the evening.
Hairspray was one of those musicals that I never wanted to end but, as we all know, all good things must come to an end and the ending on Tuesday night came with colorful streamers flying through the air. It was an explosive end to a truly enjoyable performance that left me lost for all words except– BRAVO!
**Photo Credit: (Center, in red and pink from L) Andrew Levitt (aka Nina West) as “Edna Turnblad,” Niki Metcalf as “Tracy Turnblad” and Company in Hairspray. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.