Phoenix Phalls Head Over Heels For “Hairspray”

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Mister D: Congrats to Ms. Keala Settle on her debut as the new Tracey!

Big ‘Hair’ day: Gammage audience revels in music
Kyle Lawson
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 15, 2004 12:00 AM

The Gammage Auditorium audience was dancing in the aisles and screaming an ovation at the final curtain call of Hairspray on Tuesday night.

Anything less would have been criminal.

Hairspray is funny, visually colorful and irresistibly tuneful. It features great performances (by Bruce Vilanch, Keala Settle, Susan Cella, Todd Susman and Joanna Glushak). Best of all, it’s a singing, dancing billboard for tolerance.

Tracy, the teenage heroine, is White, fat and addicted to oversize hairdos. She dreams of crashing a TV dance show and becoming a celebrity. She’s infatuated with the program’s blond heartthrob, who’s pledged to the snippy, model-thin blonde who’s the show’s reigning queen.

Her greatest dream, though, is to integrate the all-White danceathon. She wants kids, regardless of color, to dance together on TV – “That way, people will see that we’re not different.”

Do her dreams come true? It’s a musical, isn’t it?

Set in 1962 Baltimore, Hairspray is based on the John Waters film, which was inspired by a real TV show that, briefly, had national exposure in the wake of Philadelphia’s American Bandstand.

The film is most famous for its casting of Divine, an overweight transvestite, as Tracy’s mom, Edna. The play’s producers continue the tradition of filling the part with a man: Harvey Fierstein on Broadway, and Vilanch in the Gammage production.

Vilanch doesn’t do a Fierstein or Divine imitation; he’s his own woman and the funnier for it.

Even better is Settle’s Tracy. She may be chunky, but she has such energy, such vivacity, that the audience can’t get enough of her. She’s living proof that beauty comes from the heart, not the outward shell.

In fact, this show is proof that, however glitzy, however superficial the genre, a Broadway musical doesn’t have to be empty-hearted. Hairspray’s message about racial harmony isn’t anything that you haven’t heard before, but when’s the last time it was so powerful that you wanted to get up and dance to it? The concept that overweight people have something to offer gets a lot of lip service in this politically correct era, but when have you actually cheered a fat girl routing the skinnies?

The score is a mix of ’60s pop and Motown; it’s original but sounds like every song you’ve heard from that era. Even if you aren’t a baby boomer, you’ll find it infectious, especially the bring-down-the-house finale, You Can’t Stop the Beat.

You can’t stop Hairspray, either. You’ll walk out with a grin on your face, a melody locked in your brain and, hopefully, the determination that if Tracy can change her world, then maybe you can change yours.