AMY J. BARRY, Special to The Day
"Hairspray" has been through several permutations over the past 24 years. First conceived as a film by John Waters (1988), the movie morphed into a Broadway musical comedy in 2003 and won eight Tony awards.
The play then inspired a blockbuster film five years ago starring John Travolta. Since it left Broadway, the endearing production about an unlikely high school girl rising to sudden stardom, her integrity intact, has been a consistent top choice for high school musicals throughout the country.
And now "Hairspray - The Broadway Musical" is at a theater near you-The Ivoryton Playhouse-under the direction of Jacqui Hubbard, who has done an excellent job breathing some fresh new life into the show while staying true to the wonderful oddities of the original Waters script and its commentary on the social/racial injustices still prevalent in 1963, when it takes place.
At the center of the musical is Tracy Turnblad, a charming, weight-challenged teen who is both color-blind and fat-blind and naively doesn't understand why people just can't all get along. Tracy has her sights fixed not only on dancing on "The Corny Collins Show," Baltimore's "American Bandstand," but also on integrating it and doing away with Negro Day, the one day African Americans are allowed to appear on the show. Jill Sullivan brings boundless energy and believability to her role-we feel her character's starry-eyed, unstoppable determination on every level.
Michael Barra of Durham, who is featured as T-Bone in "The Amazing Spider-Man," plays Tracy's mother, Edna. A gentle giant in a ballooning house dress and fuzzy slippers, Barra is witty and warm in the role, with strong vocals and dance chops.
Among the many standout supporting actors is Neal Mayer as Wilbur Turnblad, fabulous as the oddball and grounded family man. Mayer is rail-thin, which next to his daughter and wife, is funny in itself.
Bethany Fitzgerald is terrific as the character we love to hate: the evil, racist Amber Von Tussle, and her daughter Velma (Tara Michelle Gesling) comes in a close second. Abby Hart with her fiery red hair is delightful as Tracy's friend Penny Lou Pingleton, and Karen Anderson is a blast as Motormouth Maybelle, singing up a storm in such numbers as "Big, Blonde, and Beautiful" and "I Know Where I've Been."
The production is rounded out by John DeNicola's energetic direction of the rocking score, Cully Long's fun, quirky set design including a giant hairspray container, and Vivianna Lamb's colorful early '60s-correct costumes.
As implausible as "Hairspray's" storyline is, it reminds us of how some things change, and some stay the same, and some just become subtler-like the way we treat "the other."
All ends happily with the company singing the upbeat "You Can't Stop the Beat." "The Corny Collins Show" is fully integrated, Tracy gets her man without losing a single pound, and is off to college.
The Ivoryton Playhouse's version of the popular musical about an unpopular girl is a real treat and fun summer fare.