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Score Another Critical Triumph for “Hairspray” in Cincy, O

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Score another film-to-stage hit with memorable ‘Hairspray’
By Rich Copley
HERALD-LEADER ARTS WRITER

CINCINNATI – It’s such a rarity to see a new musical these days and walk out singing the songs.

Waking up the next morning with them in your head.

Humming the tunes as you brush your teeth and pour your coffee.

Yes, there have been entertaining musicals written recently: The Producers. Thoroughly Modern Millie was just in Cincinnati, and it was fun. Two weeks after seeing it though, I’ll be darned if I can remember a tune.

But the morning after Tuesday’s opening night performance of Hairspray in Cincinnati, I wake up and (cue the orchestra) “Good Morning Baaaaal-ti-more!”

Maybe composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman were just what the American musical needed. The first-time Broadway composers delivered a memorable score in the service of the best film-to-stage adaptation we’ve seen around here since, well, The Producers.

As in John Waters’ 1988 classic, this is the story of Tracy Turnblad, a tubby teen in 1962 Baltimore who dreams of dancing on the local American Bandstand knock-off The Corny Collins Show and marrying the show’s heartthrob, Link Larkin.

But after getting her chance to dance, Tracy learns there’s more to life than that, unless you’re very shallow — like, say, Amber Von Tussle, the teen queen of the show whose mother, Velma, is the producer, and wants nothing to do with fat girls or black people.

After befriending dance phenomenon Seaweed, Tracy knows it’s only right that he and his friends share the stage with the all-white Corny Collins Show cast.

There are some heavy moments in this predominantly sunny musical, which makes it a really well-rounded and satisfying night.

Original Broadway director Jack O’Brien brings it all together with great moments, such as Tracy’s wedding fantasy, I Can Hear the Bells, in a production that has the look of 1960s TV shows.

The tour has an energetic cast that seizes Shaiman and Wittman’s score.

Leading the way is Carly Jibson, 19, as Tracy, gleefully making her professional debut as the lead in the reigning Tony Award winner for best musical. She’s got a lot of experience behind her in veteran comic Bruce Vilanch as-Edna; Charlotte Crossley, formerly one of Bette Midler’s backup singers, as Seaweed’s singer-mom Motormouth Maybelle; and Todd Susman, whose credits include the P.A. announcer on M*A*S*H, as Tracy’s dad, Wilbur.

Considering that so many of the roles were not written for traditional triple threats, it’s impressive the Hairspray tour came up with such a strong case. It’s well worth the trip to see them and this show.