After recently reviewing the musical, “Bye Bye Birdie” a story about the relationship between teens and “Rock and Roll” during the 50’s and 60’s, it is even more amazing to watch the cult movie transformed to a hit musical, “Hairspray, the Broadway Musical” at its opening at The Paramount Theater in Aurora. The film and now the hit musical takes us back into the 60’s , in Baltimore (over Sweet Apple, a mythical town) and the importance television had on the American public. Remember the dance shows on TV? The local as well as the national and you will also recall that what TV brought into our living rooms was America as they wanted to present it to us. Human Rights and equality were never brought up. Situation comedies and variety shows were the norm and on the dance shows, every dancer was “lilly white”. This was 1962! This was Baltimore!
That is until John Waters wrote and directed a little film called “Hairspray” about a chubby young teen who wanted to dance on her favorite TV dance show. She was not the perfect girl and so those who controlled the air waves went out of their way to make sure she did not get the opportunity. She also was a hero for integration, wanting the right for all teens to dance with whomever they chose to dance with. That is the premise of the story and when Thomas Meehan and Mark O’Donnell recreated this story for the stage with music (a solid score by Marc Shaiman) and Shaiman’s lyrics with Scott Wittman, a new star was born. One that delivers a message, even today: Individuality and acceptance of others! And during these turbulent times in cities across America dealing with racial issues, the timing could not be better. Thanks Paramount for bringing this to your stage!
Directed by Amber Mak who also takes on the choreography, this is a solid production from start to finish. This is her first effort on the Paramount stage and I am sure we will see more of her work in the future, both here and others. She did a splendid job! It sure helps to have a solid cast of performers with great voices, dancing skills that are sheer delight and performance skills that should make Jim Corti and Tim Rater ecstatic. I saw Corti during intermission and his smile was as wide as it could be!
Playing the pudgy, Tracy Turnblad is the extraordinary Amelia Jo Parish- DYNAMITE!. Her parents are played by Michael Ehlers as dad,Wilbur, who owns a novelty/trick store below their apartment and Michael Kingston (yes, this role is always played by a man) as mom, Edna , who does laundry and raises Tracy. I must say, over the years, I have seen Kingston do some roles in other theater companies, but never anything as large as this. He truly shows how talented he is in this role. Congratulations, Michael.
This cast is composed of some excellent people that we have seen on area stages including the magnificent. Faye Butler as Motormouth Maybelle. Hearing her do “Big Blonde & Beautiful” along with Tracy, Edna, Wilbur and the company to end the first act is worth the price of the ticket alone, but there are lots of others where the applause rings through this building. Other cast members that truly shine are the adorable Landree Fleming as best friend Penny, Devin DeSantis who shines as Corny Collins, the TV host who is open to change and Henry McGinnis as Link, the popular dancer who gives up his pretty thin Amber (Samantha Pauley) for the realist, idealistic Tracy.
This entire cast, an energetic one, to say the least, makes this show as powerful as it is.Heather Townsend sends her message as the nasty Velma with just the right (or should I say wrong) tone, Ariana Burks proves that big things come in small packages (what a voice!), Gilbert Domally shines as Seawood and George Keating handles all of his characters with just the right touch. David Davis, Annie Jo Ermel, Adam Fane, Megan E. Farley, Allyson Graves, Danielle Jackson, Allie Jae, Reneisha J. Jenkins, Alex John Johnson, John Marshall, Jr., James Lee, Ericka Mac, Mallory Maedke, Mollyanne Nunn, James Osborne, Carlita Victoria and Phil Young- it is with your hard work that this production shines as it does. As I have said for many years, the ensemble is the glowing finishing touch in making a musical work!
On the tech side, Linda Buchanan’s set is amazingly clever. When you enter the theater (the beautiful Paramount Theatre) you will see old fashioned TV screens along the arches of the stage. On these video projections, TV ads from the early 60’s. Things like “DUZ does everything”, Tootsie Roll Pops”, “Sanka”, and cars like the Corvair, Edsel and Buick Roadmaster among other products that in many cases are still around. The high tech theater is here, and tonight, of all things to happen, there was a mis-hap with one of the pieces that glides on and off. They had to stop the show, advising the audience that for safety purposes, this had to be done. The actors left the stage and the tech people went to work on the unit. Audience members who were probably the men involved with building the unit, went on stage and 14 minutes later, all was safe, the actors came back on the stage to resume where they were and were greeted by the resounding sounds of clapping. “The show must go on, but must be safe for actors, crew and audience”- well done by the staff and thanks for letting us share this incident (which I hope will not happen again). Theresa Ham’s costumes are amazing, but the real tip of the hat for this production has to go to Katie Cordts for her wigs and make-up. Greg Hoffmann (lights) , Adam Rosenthal (sound) and Sarah E. Ross (props) round out the technical portion of the show. The orchestra led by Tom Vendafreddo fills the theater with the music that will have you jumping and wanting to dance along- “Good Morning Baltimore” starts off this solid production and for two hours and twenty-five minutes, you will be tapping your foot until “You Can’t Stop The Beat” and like us, you will find yourself dancing up the aisle as you head home with a smile on your face, a melody in your mind and a good feeling in your heart.
“Hairspray the Broadway Musical” will continue at The Paramount Theatre located at 23 East Galena Blvd in Aurora thru February 21st with performances as follows:
Thursday 7 p.m.
Friday 8 p.m.
Saturday 3 and 8 p.m.
Sunday 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $41-$56 and can be purchased at the box office, by calling 630-896-6666 or online at www.theparamounttheatre.com
There is valet parking at the front door, street parking and garage also available. Come early and enjoy Aurora, the second largest city in Illinois.
To see what others are saying (and I am sure you will read high praises for this one), visit wwwtheatreinchicago.com, got to Review Round-Up and click at “Hairspray the Broadway Musical”