Hairspray

June 19 - 28
Buskirk-Chumley Theater

H-T Review

Cardinal’s production tremendously enjoyable, virtually without blemish

In 1962 Baltimore, Maryland, there’s only one after-school activity for teens that’s cooler than tuning into “The Corny Collins Show:” dancing on “The Corny Collins Show.”

The program features a team of teen entertainers called “The Nicest Kids in Town.” They’re all great singers, they’re all great dancers and they’re all thoroughly white.

Then, once a month, the network has “Negro Day,” when the black dancers are permitted to perform in lieu of “The Nicest Kids in Town.” The black dancers have always opposed this discrimination, but progress is virtually impossible without any white allies to bring the pressure from within.

“Hairspray” is Cardinal Stage Company’s final show of the 2014-15 season. Perhaps Cardinal’s most dance-heavy production to date, “Hairspray” is one of those classic Broadway musicals that can’t really be called a classic Broadway musical, because it premiered in 2002.

What premiered in 2002, of course, was a stage adaptation of the eponymous 1988 film written and directed by John Waters. That film was remade in 2007 with a host of stars including John Travolta, Michele Pfeiffer, Zac Efron andChristopher Walken.

The “Hairspray” of 1988 was John Waters’ inaugural foray into mainstream filmmaking. His preceding works were mostly low-budget transgressive cult films that garnered X ratings from the MPAA.

“Hairspray,” on the other hand, is family-friendly (for the most part). It’s campy fun with a positive message.

An open call for dancers prompts an inspired girl by the name of Tracy Turnblad (Kaitlyn Smith) to cut school and audition for the program. Her mother Edna (Vincent Teninty) warns her that women of their size are only put on television to be laughed at, and “Corny Collins Show” producer Velma Von Tussle (Gerrianne Genga) confirms Ms. Turnblad’s belief when Tracy is turned away without even a chance.

But after learning some moves from one of the black dancers, Seaweed J. Stubbs (Quinn Cason), Tracy earns a spot on the show by impressing Corny Collins himself (Sam Cusack).

Before long, Tracy becomes entangled in both a romance with heartthrob Link Larkin (Scott Van Wye) and a battle for racial integration.

The propulsive dancing is choreographed by Liza Gennaro, an accomplished professor in the Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.

Musical director Brent M. Kincaid leads a small but sufficient orchestra through the rock, soul and rhythm-and-blues score of Marc Shaiman. The vocal performances in “Hairspray” pack plenty of power.

Lee Martin’s rousing rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been” is the musical highlight of the second act.

An immeasurable boon to the quality of “Hairspray” is that the show doesn’t take itself too seriously. By being cognizant and unashamed of its own tack, “Hairspray” ends up as the tackiest depiction of the civil rights movement that ever worked.

This is not to say that “Hairspray” lacks the trademark polish of director Randy White or a magnificently talented cast.

Kaitlyn Smith is a consistently entertaining lead as Tracy Turnblad. Particularly memorable are Vincent Teninty’s performance as Edna Turnblad, Quinn Cason’s performance as Seaweed J. Stubbs and Connie Shakalis’ performances as a plethora of matronly oppressors.

Johna Sewell’s ludicrous 1960s costumes are a hoot. Mark Frederic Smith’s flexible set flourishes under Kate Ashton’s lighting design.

“Hairspray” is a tremendously enjoyable musical, produced by Cardinal Stage Company virtually without blemish.