Dancing for equality
Ah, youth. The innocence, the energy, the innate confidence of knowing what’s right and having the will to do it. That’s what’s at the heart of Hairspray now on stage at American River College Theatre.
It’s all wrapped up in a love story—set in Baltimore in 1962—about a chubby white girl in love with dancing, and her determination to take her big hair, her big moves and her black friends onto the local TV dance-party show. The musical is also John Waters’ love song to his hometown. Waters created the movie upon which the Broadway musical (book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman) was based.
This is a huge production, with 16 principals, an ensemble of 27 and a 15-piece orchestra—led by Susan Hamre—in the pit. Director Sam Williams (who also choreographed, with his daughter Sarah Williams) surely has his stage full, but the show couldn’t run any more smoothly. It is tight! Whether from student or professional actors, the performances he elicits are impeccable. Standouts include big-voiced Anna Russell as Tracy Turnblad, the innocent at the heart of the story; Valerie Steward-Williams as her mother Edna Turnblad (the role often goes to a man, agrave; la John Travolta in the movie); Keith Riedell as daddy Wilbur; Jalen Justice as Seaweed; Barnie Warrick as dance-show host Corny Collins; Nicole Royster as Motormouth Maybelle; the dynamite Chantel Aldana, Dominique Dates and Takylya Johnson as the Dynamites; and the preternaturally talented Larriah Jackson as Little Inez.
Gail Russell’s costume design, Corey D. Winfield’s hair and wig design, and Kathy Burleson’s set and light design add to the show’s impressive look. The only thing that keeps this show from a “sublime” rating is a tsunami of pops, dead mikes and other sound problems during a recent performance.