Singing. Dancing. Comedy. A (sadly) still relevant message of tolerance.
Couldn’t we all stand to have a little more of that in our lives right now?
Well, it’s exactly what Greenville Little Theatre delivers with their colorful new production of the musical Hairspray.
It’s the story of Tracy Turnblad (Mary Evan Giles), a Baltimore teenager who longs to join the “nicest kids in town” on The Corny Collins Show, a local version of American Bandstand. Along the way, she falls in love with teen heartthrob Link Larkin (Carter Allen), leads a campaign to racially integrate the TV show, and helps welcome her mother, Edna (Jon Kilpatrick), to the sixties.
The musical, based on a 1988 John Waters movie, is simply joyous, filled with memorable tunes by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, and a clever book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan. It’s become a staple of the musical repertoire and is always guaranteed to be a good time.
Director Suzanne McCalla put together a talented and energetic ensemble to bring the show to life. She fills the stage with appealingly cartoonish backgrounds (nicely designed by Ryan Bradburn) that work particularly well in big numbers like “Welcome to the Sixties” and “Run and Tell That.” That second number also stands out as a demonstration of the cast’s solid – and sometimes very impressive – dance chops as they bring Kimberlee Ferreira’s joyous choreography to life.
Mary Evan Giles, with a strong voice and cheerful presence, is perfectly perky as Tracy. She’s a dynamic performer who makes it easy to see why the character can both introduce new dance moves and serve as a civil rights leader. She also has an easy chemistry with the likeable Carter Allen as Link, the object of her affections.
Christina Yasi, as Tracy’s best friend, Penny, makes a strong impression with her pleasing voice and comic delivery. Similarly, Kristofer Parker brings impressive vocal and dance skills to his role of Seaweed, the object of Penny’s affections.
Jon Kilpatrick has a sly touch and arch sensibility as Tracy’s mother, Edna, a role traditionally played by a male (see if you can spot the clever nod to the character’s origin in the set design).
Other standouts include Mary Freeman and Cat McWhirter as scheming mother and daughter Velma and Amber Von Tussle, Ryan Bradburn’s goofy expressions as Tracy’s father, Wilbur, and the powerful voices of Jessica Eckenrod, Meg Jones, and Grace McGrath as The Dynamites.
A real show-stopper, though, was Khristin Stephens as Motormouth Maybelle. With a dynamic presence and huge voice to match, she managed to bring chills and cheers with her two big numbers, “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful” and “I Know Where I’ve Been.”
Thomas Brooks designed the colorful costumes and Tim St. Clair II served as musical director. His work with the ensemble – coupled with the dynamic choreography – especially shines on big numbers like “Without Love” and the show’s bouncy, energetic finale.
While there were some troublesome sound issues on the night I attended – including microphone feedback and some muddy lyrics – that shouldn’t dissuade you from attending. After all, you can’t stop the beat.
Hairspray runs through June 25 at Greenville Little Theatre, 444 College St, Greenville, SC. For tickets and show times call the box office at 864-233-6238 or visit greenvillelittletheatre.org.