Hairspray and Mister V Take Hold of San Diego

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‘Hairspray’ touring production is fun, fizzy
By: PAM KRAGEN – Staff Writer

With heart, boundless energy, and an optimistism as light and fluffy as the towering beehive hairdos that it celebrates, “Hairspray” is an irresistible way to spend a summer evening.

The Tony Award-winning musical, joyously directed by San Diego’s own Jack O’Brien of the Old Globe, makes its first visit to San Diego this week, and judging by the audience’s jubilant response on opening night Tuesday, locals have embraced the musical as if it were their own.

Like the “Ultra Clutch” brand hairspray it endorses, the musical’s energy never releases its hold, as it glides from one showstopping number to another. Jerry Mitchell’s buoyant choreography and the Technicolor lights, sets and costumes give the show visual pop and excitement, particularly the teen-party dance number “Welcome to the ’60s,” the romantic ensemble “I Can Hear the Bells,” the soul-packed “I Know Where I’ve Been” and the toe-tapping, head-bobbing finale “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”

Based on a 1988 film by camp filmmaker John Waters and set in 1962 Baltimore, “Hairspray” is the story of overweight 15-year-old Tracy Turnblad (played by Keala Settle), who dreams of one day dancing on the city’s TV dance party, “The Corny Collins Show.” With the help of her dowdy housewife mother, Edna (“Hollywood Squares” panelist Bruce Vilanch, in drag) and her own irrepressible can-do spirit, Tracy not only gets on TV, she also befriends the black community, integrates the TV show and wins the heart of town hunk, Link (Austin Miller), much to the chagrin of his socialite girlfriend, Amber (Jordan Ballard). The effervescent 2 hour, 40-minute musical —- with music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan) —- ends with a big, raucous dance party that gets the audience on their feet.

The touring production impresses with its lavish sets and costumes and a cast packed with strong singers and dancers.

Vilanch, as the freakishly unattractive Edna, easily steals the show in the role made famous on film by Divine. A veteran comedy writer, Vilanch brought down the house Tuesday with ad-libbed gags about the San Diego Zoo, Tijuana border and Gov. Schwarzenegger. As the perky Tracy, chubby Hawaii native Settle has a big voice, a sweet stage presence and dancing chops to boot. As Link, the matinee-idol handsome Miller is an exceptional dancer. And fine singing performances are turned in by Terron Brooks and Charlotte Crossley, as the town’s young black dancer, Seaweed, and his TV show host mom, Motormouth Maybelle, respectively. Also worth noting are Sandra Denise as Tracy’s ditzy best friend, Penny, and Todd Susman as Tracy’s dad, Wilbur.

There’s no deep message behind “Hairspray” other than it’s meant to nostalgically evoke a sweeter, more innocent time, when optimism and persistence really could change the world. It’s a reassuring comfort in today’s challenging times.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 6 p.m. Sundays; through July 18
Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, Third Avenue at B Street, San Diego
Tickets: $34.50-$78
Info: (877) 225-9686