Set to the beat of '60s rock and roll, hairspray is, at its essence, a Cinderella story about a poor girl who wants to go to the ball and ends up winning the prince.
Based on a 1988 John Waters movie, the musical runs through Sunday in the Stranahan Theater. In it, the poor girl is Tracy Turnblad, who is chubby and wears too-tight, unflattering clothing. The ball is The Corny Collins Show, a popular teen dance program on TV, and the prince is Link Larkin, the handsome Elvis-wannabe who is the lead male among the regular dancers on Collins' show.
In the role of fairy godmother are Tracy's father, who urges her to go for her dream, and her mother, a laundress who thinks her daughter deserves the best. And the evil stepsisters are the female dancers on the Collins show, most of whom are Tracy's classmates, who can't believe Corny would even consider a fat girl to be their equal.
What they don't know is that, in this pre-integration era, Collins is hoping to get kids on the show "who look like kids who watch the show," which means not only all shapes and sizes, but all colors, too. In this, he has an ally in Tracy, who loves the way her friend Seaweed J. Stubbs, his sister, Inez, and his pals (who all happen to be black) dance and doesn't understand why black kids and white kids can't dance together.
Bouncy and bubbly, hairspray is an evening of good cheer. Audience members might not go dancing out of the auditorium as they did after Mamma Mia, but it's hard to refrain from enjoying the music and energy that emanate from the stage.
The show is probably best known for the fact that Harvey Fierstein and a succession of big men played Tracy's mother, Edna, on Broadway. In the Stranahan production, J.P. Dougherty has that role, and he is as engaging a mother as any girl could wish for. A showdown between Edna and the mother of the petite and snooty Amber Von Tussle, Tracy's nemesis, is a highlight of the first act.
Christine Danelson makes Tracy so sweet and irrepressible, it's hard to understand why anyone wouldn't want to be her friend.
Tracy and Edna certainly are the stars of the show, but there are many more delightful characters, including Cassie Levy as Tracy's best friend, the gum-chewing Penny Pingleton; Alan Mingo, Jr., as Seaweed, and (my favorite) John Salvatore as Wilbur, patriarch of the Turnblad home, who loves his wife with an unshakable passion and believes his daughter to be a princess. Wilbur and Edna's song, "Timeless to Me," brings down the house in the second act.
If anything diminishes the pleasures of hairspray, it is the sound. At least for those sitting down front, the live orchestra drowns out the words of the singers, which often serve to move the story along.
Other than that, it is delightful entertainment for all ages.
The Broadway musical "hairspray" continues through Sunday in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Performances are 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $51 to $65. Information: 419-381-8851.
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