Arts & Culture

You can't stop the infectious fun of arts center's 'Hairspray'

What fun! The talented and energetic actors, singers and dancers appearing in the opening night production of "Hairspray" on stage at the Elizabeth Wallace Theater of the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina performed in the most amazing way. They kept the energy coming all night long.

What's more, the audience totally got "Hairspray," from the broad and giant hilarious scenes, which contributed to the success of this brilliant musical comedy, right down to the most subtle double-take, rolled eyes or side-long wink. We in the audience were complete responders in a way that brings an energy to both those on the stage and in the house. It takes a production over the top.

The Broadway musical "Hairspray," which opened in 2002, is based on the 1988 movie written and directed by John Waters. The play found recent popularity in 2007 with the musical movie starring John Travolta. The story, set in 1962, follows Tracy Turnblad, a chubby-and-happy teenager who lands a spot on a Baltimore TV dance program -- "The Corny Collins Show."

Our local production was expertly directed by Casey Colgan, with choreography by Jill Gorrie and musical direction by Bob Bray.

The character Edna Turnblad is played by our longtime actor, singer, dancer, choreographer and director Colgan. The moment he hit the stage he was spot-on in his interpretation of the transitioning Edna.

Housedress and footies in place as she saw to the laundry and her family, Colgan's Edna has multi-leveled presence -- sympathetic and blazingly funny.

Edna later gets an extreme personal makeover. All glitz and glamour with long tresses carefully coiffed and piled high, Edna's every word, note, move or expression was more captivating than the one before. What a presence.

Over nearly 20 years, Colgan has offered his directorial talent and deftness to close to a dozen productions on Hilton Head Island. He brought not only his talent as a director to this production, but the most positive outcome through the cast he assembled and the special spin he brought to this piece.

I must mention Colgan's portrayal of Edna's relationship with her daughter, Tracy (Lindsay Braverman), and most especially with her husband, Wilbur (Robert Anthony Jones). The Turnblads were simply knockout and approached perfection as we shared in their marriage, their respect and love for each other -- oh, and their irresistible physical attraction. Their performance of "Timeless to Me" was show-stopping. A kind of metaphor for the flow of the production, there were moments of seriousness and moments that were so funny everyone -- including the performers -- laughed in spite of themselves.

Some lovely singing came early in the evening with "I Can Hear the Bells," which establishes Tracy as a young woman with more than a goal of dancing on "The Corny Collins Show." We see her with the anticipation of a new focus, impending maturity and someone who will make a difference. Her impact was stunning.

As the story unfolds we find Tracy has had a crush on the show's heartthrob, Link (Vince Oddo), for a long time, even though he was the acknowledged boyfriend of Amber (Jessica Moore), a snooty girl whose equally nasty mother (Lisa Mandel) is the TV station manager. Tracy and Link come together in a surprising moment, which changes the direction of their lives. They sing "It Takes Two," and it is absolutely on the mark.

Now would be the perfect time to mention Motormouth Maybelle, (Yvette Monique Clark). What a voice, and we are highly entertained whenever she takes the lead on stage. You'll remember Clarck from "Hello Dolly," and she continued to impress as she belted out "Big, Blonde and Beautiful" and won us over in the powerful "I Know Where I've Been."

This script has been slightly modified, which makes the content and flow more appealing and appropriate. The words "riotous, campy and whimsical" are definitive at first, but in moments we note a little more substance. No one escapes the impact of some of these all-white, perfectly groomed and beautifully outfitted regulars on "The Corny Collins Show." It's the '60s, after all. Integration was not even a word folks used comfortably. Some important philosophical lessons in values develop through the performance.

Act two offers a sensitive "Without Love," and "Cooties," with Amber and the council members. But it is "You Can't Stop the Beat" with Tracy, Link, Penny, Seaweed, Edna, Wilbur, Motormouth and the ensemble that wrap up the evening, bringing us to our feet and carrying us into the night.