By Mary Boyle
The Tony-Award winning Broadway Musical, Hairspray, is part of the film to stage club (musicals that are based on films) and, in the case of Hairspray, it was far more successful on the stage than it was on the screen. The 1988 film of the same name directed by John Waters and starring Ricki Lake, Debbie Harry, Sonny Bono, and Jerry Stiller, was only moderately successful, but the musical won 8 Tony Awards in 2003, including one for Best Musical. It did so well, in fact, that it caused a film remake in 2007, starring John Travolta, Queen Latifah, and Zac Effron, among others. The second film did far better than the first, but it is truly on the stage that Hairspray shines, and Skylight Music Theatre brings out the best of it at the beautiful and intimate Cabot Theatre in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward this holiday season.
With music by Marc Shaiman, book by Mark O'Donnel and Thomas Meehan, and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, Hairspray is set in Baltimore in 1962 and tells the story of Tracy Turnblad (Maisie Rose), an overweight teen who dreams of being on the Corny Collins Show (think Dick Clark's American Bandstand with teenagers). When she learns the show has an opening, Tracy and her best friend, Penny Pingleton (Ann Delaney) head to the studio to audition. The show's producer, Velma Von Tussle (Samantha Sostarich), her snooty daughter, Amber (Amber Smith), and most of the cast makes fun of Tracy's weight, but the show's male star and Amber's boyfriend, Link Larkin (Colin Schreier) captures Tracy's heart, and Corny Collins (Doug Clemons), himself, accepts Tracy for the role. Tracy returns home triumphant, and her parents, Edna (Tommy Novak) and Wilbur (David Flores), share in her new celebrity status. Unfortunately, Tracy still has an uphill fight to get others to accept her, and an even bigger battle to get her friend, Seaweed (Gilbert Domally), his mother, Motormouth Maybelle (Bethany Thomas), and Seaweed's little sister, Inez (Terynn Erby-Walker), along with the whole of the black community in Baltimore, to be accepted on the Corny Collins show, too.
Directed by Lili-Anne Brown, with music direction by Cindy Blanc, Hairspray is as fun and campy as it's meant to be, but also incredibly powerful and uplifting. Maisie Rose, Ann Delaney, and Colin Schreier all nail their Skylight debuts as Tracy, Penny, and Link, respectively, while Tommy Novak returns to Skylight to create a memorable reprise of his role as Edna Turnblad. Skylight favorites, Rick Pendzich and Rhonda Rae Busch, are absolute scene-stealers in their various "Male and Female Authority Figure" roles. Samantha Sostarich and Amber Smith are no strangers to the Skylight stage, and are brilliant as Velma and Amber Von Tussle, along with a talented, locally based youth ensemble; however, it is the talented Bethany Thomas as Motormouth Maybelle who brings the audience to their knees. During the song, "I Know Where I've Been," Thomas sings, "There's a struggle that we have yet to win," and though the song is referring to segregation that was still common in the 1960's, the truth is that we are still struggling for equality. While audiences will laugh and clap their way through this production, the message of acceptance is loud and clear, and perfectly timed.
Hairspray, The Broadway Musical, runs through December 30th at the Cabot Theatre, located within the Broadway Theatre Center at 158 N. Broadway in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward. Tickets may be purchased in person at the Broadway Theatre Center BoxOffice, 158 N. Broadway, by calling (414) 291-7800, or visiting www.skylightmusictheatre.org
About Skylight Music Theatre
Skylight Music Theatre's mission since 1959: To bring the full spectrum of music theatre works to a wide and diverse audience, in celebration of the musical and theatrical arts and their reflection of the human condition. Skylight presents productions "Skylight Style" – bringing fresh approaches or interesting twists to music theatre works, creating meaningful connections, not only between the characters on stage, but with the audience, as well.