Happy ‘Hairspray’ goes straight to the head
Lillian Castillo and the cast of "Hairspray" at Drury Lane Theatre. | BRETT BEINER PHOTOGRAPHY
Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace
1:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 1:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursdays; 8:30 p.m. Fridays; 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sundays, through June 17
Tickets: $35-$46, with discounts available for students and senior citizens. Lunch and dinner packages available for $49.75-$68
Call (630) 530-0111 or visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com
If there’s a more optimistic, ebullient musical than Hairspray, I’m hard pressed to say what it is.
From Tracy Turnblad, the peppy, chubby teenager who anchors the show with her unwavering joie de vivre to Motormouth Mabel, who gives it some spiritual heft, “Hairspray” is one long infectious good mood, a bouncy, bubbly party that celebrates diversity and great, big heartedness.
Our story opens with a high-spirited frolic as young Tracy pops up in her Baltimore bedroom, chirping out a peppy ode to her hometown, replete with a cheery nod to the neighborhood flasher and the drunk who waves from the barstool as she makes her way to school.
Tracy’s happy feet carry her all the way to auditions for the Corny Collins show, an American-bandstand like show spotlighting cool kids dancing to the nation’s Top 40 hits. It’s Tracy’s ultimate dream to dance in the show, ideally partnered with the dreamy high school hunk Link Larkin.
Turnblad doesn’t let her curves and swerves get in the way of he exuberant self-confidence (not that they should get in the way of said self confidence. But there’s no way around the fact that it’s been a very long time since Rubenesque body types represented the feminine ideal), and it’s her unwavering smile and spunk that propel “Hairspray” forward. It’s a deceptively tricky balance. Tracy has to be perky and confident even in the face of adversity, but avoid becoming some plastic cheerleader. She’s got to display both huge heart and equally intense sincerity. Lillian Castillo does both.
Tracy’s struggles as the first chubby chick on Corny Collins nicely dovetail with her ardent desire for the show’s once-a-month “Negro Day” to become a daily occurrence.
Will the ultra-white teenage dance show integrate? Will Tracy get out of jail in time to compete for the coveted Miss Teenage Hairspray? Will her mother Edna overcome her shyness and embrace the spirit of the 1960s? This is a musical not a tragedy, so it’s no spoiler to note that the answers are yes, yes and but of course.
“Hairspray” is about as subtle as a three-foot tall beehive in its message of equal rights on the dance floor (and by extension, everywhere) and it’s condemnation of mean girls. But subtlety is not what John Waters, auteur of the movie on which Hairspray is based, has ever been about.
By casting the late, great drag queen Divine as Tracy Turnblad’s plus-sized mother Edna in the 1988 movie, Waters struck a blow for breaking free of rigid gender roles as well as breaking free of bigotry. More than 30 years before RuPaul brought drag queens to prime time, “Hairspray” was bringing men in dresses to the mainstream.
Director/choreographer Tammy Mader sticks to the musical’s template, delivering a “Hairspray” that’s a delight from start to finish.
As Edna, Aaron Michael Lindner plays it straight, so to speak, never succumbing to camp as Edna blossoms from insecure, housebound laundress to large and in charge gal about town. Tim Kazurinsky brings both sweetness and goofiness to Edna’s husband. Their “Timeless to Me” duet is a retro-vaudeville valentine — spiced with just the right amount of twisted bad taste.
Also turning in winning performances are Felicia P. Fields as Motormouth Mabel and Jon Michael Reese as Seaweed. The former brings down the house with the anthemic “I Know Where I’ve Been,” and the latter is a sinewy delight teaching Tracy the machinations of “Peyton Place After Midnight.”
And as the villain you love to hate (and want to force feed a sandwich or six), Keely Vasquez is a cross between David Duke and Cruella deVille.
Like the Ultra-Clutch hairspray that figures so prominently throughout, “Hairspray” proves its staying power.