Boston Goes Bonzo For Bruce in “Hairsray”

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Best `Hair’ day
By Terry Byrne
The Boston Herald
Thursday, October 9, 2003

You don’t have to tease your hair to get a lift out of “Hairspray.”

This musical is so exhilarating, it will pick you up out of your seat and have you dancing in the aisles.

Nothing has been sacrificed for the national tour of this show, which plays at the Colonial for the next month, and with 19-year-old Carly Jibson in the lead, this company is as strong, if not better, than the Broadway originals.

John Waters’ 1988 film managed to pair big hair with big dreams, and the musical’s creative team of book writers Dean O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman have taken the heart and soul of the film and given it an energized new beat, with jaw-dropping attention to detail.

From the moment the show opens with “Good Morning, Baltimore,” the energy level is cranked high and never gives an inch. Jibson, as Tracy Turnblad, the teen who’s ready to change first Baltimore, then the world, is so full of personality, she fairly leaps off the stage, and her commitment to both dancing and her friends is infectious. It’s impossible not to watch her every minute she’s on stage, and she always rewards the audience with some little touch to win you over (her frenzied response to “It Takes Two” is worth the price of admission alone).

Bruce Vilanch as Tracy’s loving mom, is in the tricky position of filling the high heels of both Divine (from the film) and Harvey Fierstein (who picked up a Tony for his performance). But Vilanch isn’t at all fazed, and even works references to the Big Dig and the Red Sox into his routine. As Tracy’s inventive joker dad, Todd Susman is delightfully low-key. The pair adds some individual quirks to “Timeless To Me” and there’s something wonderful about a musical in which the show-stopper is an old-fashioned romantic duet sung by two men.

But every member of this company is first-rate, including the gorgeous-voiced Charlotte Crossley as Motormouth Maybelle; the deliciously dramatic Susan Cella as Velma Von Tussle; Terron Brooks as Tracy’s pal, Seaweed; Austin Miller as Tracy’s heartthrob, Linc Larkin; and Sandra Denise as Tracy’s best pal, Penny Pingleton.

What makes this production so strong is that this company can sing, dance and act with such commitment to their characters, it’s impossible not to be swept up in the fun.

Shaiman’s score is a delirious combination of rock, gospel and the old show-tune shuffle, and Wittman and Shaiman’s lyrics move the story along (“Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now”), make moral points without preaching (“Big, Blonde & Beautiful,” “I Know Where I’ve Been”) and just have fun. (“The Big Dollhouse,” which opens Act II, is hilarious.)

Director Jack O’Brien moves the action at a breathless pace while keeping the connections clear. Choreographer Jerry Mitchell is faithful to the ’60s dance feel while introducing bits of routines and then building on them in later numbers.

David Rockwell’s low-tech design is nothing less than inspired, cleverly referencing other musicals, taking advantage of silhouettes and simple panels for effects that are explosive. Combined with William Ivey Long’s eye-popping costumes and Kenneth Posner’s focused lighting, “Hairspray” casts a wonderful spell.

When the company closes the show with “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” they’re not kidding.

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