Chicago Theatre Review
You Can’t Stop the Beat
Hairspray – Paramount Theatre
“The Nicest Kids in Town” are teasing their hair, singing and dancing up a storm and striking a blow for equal rights in Paramount’s latest production, a bang-up, non-stop rock ’n rolling Tony Award-winning musical that makes audiences want to boogie down the aisles. Directed and choreographed by the enormously talented Amber Mac (making her area directorial debut), this production thoroughly entertains while capturing all the spirit and social relevance of Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s script, adapted from the John Waters’ 1988 film that inspired this musical.
Set in 1962 Baltimore, Tracy Turnblad, a sweetly sincere, pleasantly plump high school teenager of blue collar parents, is an optimistic outcast among her more svelte, affluent, Teen Beat-influenced peers. After being treated unfairly while auditioning for the local American Bandstand-like TV show, Tracy begins a fight for equality and racial integration. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s infectious score has never sounded better, as played by musical director Tom Vendafreddo’s talented 15-member orchestra, and as sung and danced by this gifted company.
The cast is led by kewpie doll-faced, ball-of-fire dancing machine, Amelia Jo Parish as Tracy and Michael Kingston, in drag, as her plus-sized, agoraphobic mother, Edna. Ms. Parish uses all her assets, from a dynamite voice to her light-up-the-room smile. From her rousing, “Good Morning, Baltimore,” which opens the show and sets the tone for the entire production, to her heartfelt fantasy number, “I Can Hear the Bells,” inventively choreographed and staged by Ms. Mac, Amelia Jo leaves no doubt that she owns this show. Mr. Kingston wisely resists the urge to make Edna a drag queen caricature, instead imbuing her with honesty and dignity, creating a character who’s truly a loving mother and wife who’s battling her own insecurities. Ms. Mac certainly has a winning team in these two appealing actors, supported by an unbelievably accomplished ensemble of additional triple threats.
Not surprisingly the “Big, Blonde & Beautiful” Ms. E. Faye Butler becomes a red hot mama as Motormouth Maybelle, stopping the show cold with her soulful rendition of the musical’s anthem to equality, “I Know Where I’ve Been.” Stepping into the role of her spirited son Seaweed J. Stubbs, Gilbert Domally electrifies the stage with his “Run and Tell That.” And Ariana Burks burns up every scene she’s in as his baby sister, Little Inez.
The reliable and charming Henry McGinniss offers another star turning performance as a dancing and singing sensation, the hunky heartthrob, Link Larkin, who is the object of Tracy’s affection. His sultry “It Takes Two,” is velvet smooth and filled with hilarious double entendres. Effervescent and always delightfully captivating, Landree Fleming sweetly shines as a perfectly priceless Penny Pingleton, Tracy’s naive, best friend. The dynamic duo of Heather Townsend and Samantha Pauly are as funny as they are villainous playing TV producer (and former Miss Baltimore Crabs) Velma Von Tussle and her spoiled, self-entitled Barbie Doll daughter, Amber. Together they deliciously chew up the scenery, while the handsome, slick and suave Devin DeSantis rules the stage as TV host Corny Collins. In the role of Tracy’s father, Wilbur, the owner of the Hardy-Har-Har novelty shop, Michael Ehlers pulls out all the stops. He brings old-fashioned, sentimental Vaudevillian comedy and pizzazz to his scenes with Edna and Tracy while, together with Mr. Kingston, they make “You’re Timeless to Me” an 11th hour romantic hit.
The production is enhanced by terrific period costumes and wigs by Theresa Ham and Katie Cordts, and a phenomenal moving set by Linda Buchanan, made even more glorious by Greg Hofmann’s colorful lighting. Media designer Michael Stanfill has created a walk down memory lane by employing nostalgic clips from 60’s television commercials that play upon a proscenium made up of TV screens. They run before the show and during the intermission and bring back so many memories.
This polished, highly professional production is yet another feather in the Paramount Theatre’s cap. It’s a real “Welcome to the 60’s” that promotes a timely message about the need for racial harmony while pleading a strong case against bullying. It also offers a positive message about being yourself and owning the talents you possess. The whole evening brims with comedy, optimism and toe-tapping music. Act I opens with this talented company bidding a happy “Good Morning Baltimore.” Act II begins with a bevy of babes-behind-bars tapping away in “The Big Dollhouse,” and the show concludes with the infectious, high-octane “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” that sends the audience up the aisles and out of the theatre dancing and singing. This production is the reason that the Paramount Theatre is the real Broadway in Chicago.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 23-February 21 by the Paramount Theatre, 23 East Galena Blvd., Aurora, IL.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 630-896-6666 or by going to www.theparamounttheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com