Following more than six years on Broadway, a pair of National Tours, and numerous regional theater productions, the smash hit musical Hairspray is at last being licensed to community theaters across the land, the better to spread its message of love and acceptance and equality to cities large and small. Moorpark’s High Street Arts Center is first out of the gate this year with a production which, while no match for MTW’s nigh-on perfect Equity staging this past November, nonetheless offers numerous delights to Ventura County audiences.

Based on John Waters’ 1988 cult film of the same name, the multiple Tony award-winning musical tells the tale of plus-sized teenager Tracy Turnblad’s dream to dance on The Corny Collins Show, a 1962 Baltimore version of American Bandstand. Despite those extra pounds and a then shockingly progressive attitude towards integration (“It’s the New Frontier!”), Tracy does indeed make that dream come true, leaving only two more tasks for her to accomplish: a) making “Negro Day” more than a once-a-month Corny Collins Show event and b) winning the heart of local teen heartthrob Link Larkin. Since Hairspray is the quintessential happy-ending musical, there’s little doubt about our pleasingly plump heroine’s success in both endeavors.

Director Shawn W. Lanz brings decades of experience to the director’s chair, with John Gaston providing topnotch support as as music director and some terrifically energetic choreography by Arryck Adams.

Janelle Phaneuf is Tracy this time round, and while not as bubbly and bouncy and light on her feet as her predecessors, brings a sweetness and sincerity to the role that will win audience hearts. Talented CSUCI senior Michael Byrne is everything a teen idol should be as Tracy’s dream boy Link, Jessica Stone is a piquant pixie with a voice twice her size as Tracy’s bestie Penny Pingleton, and Tosh Hall makes for a terrific Seaweed Stubs, the object of Penny’s affection.  Aileen-Marie Scott has a field day with venomous Velma Von Tussle, the “socially conservative” producer of the Corny Collins show, sinking her teeth (or in Velma’s case fangs) into the role with fire and flair. Though miscast as Velma’s spawn, Francesca Barletta makes for a deliciously mean Amber Von Tussle. Regan Carrington is a sassy blonde Motormouth Mabel, belting out a stirring “I Know Where I’ve Been” to audience cheers. Jayson Farrar-Puls does charismatic work as local TV star Corny Collins, Kyle Green is a petite ball of fire as Little Inez, and Courtney Potter and David Banuelos are earn many laugh in numerous comic cameos. Sabrina Anderson, Terika Jefferson, and Toi Rogers lend big voices and soulful harmonies to backup girl group The Dyanmites. Completing the cast of supporting players is John Tedrick, an endearingly nerdy romantic partner for the evening’s biggest star, the fabulous Kelly Green as none other than Edna Turnblad herself.

Green’s forerunners (Harvey Fierstein and Bruce Villanch to name just two) are hard acts to follow, but the PCPA grad takes one of the best roles ever written for a man-in-drag and runs with it, not afraid to play it big, take chances, and make the part his own—with a tip of the hat to Nathan Lane.

While Green’s and Tedrick’s soft-shoe duet of “(You’re) Timeless To Me” is arguably the production’s standout number, an enthusiastic young cast prove admirably adept at Adams’ choreography, rising to the challenges Adams has set before them in dance number after dance number. They are Nikko Arce, Carzie Carter, Leanna Crenshaw, Julie Greiner, Ixchel Lopez, Rondell MacGarvey, Christopher Mahr, Michael McGraw, A.J. Morales, Kelyla Nelson, Nicholas Reid, Madagan Riley, Andy Smith, and Tyler Washington.

Music director Gaston scores points for the cast’s pitch-perfect harmonizing to prerecorded tracks provided by The MT Pit L.L.C. Laurel Marion’s costumes are colorful evocations of the early ‘60s, and topnotch for a community theater production, with the exception of Tracy’s unflattering smocks and skirts. Andrew De La Torre’s set design makes clever use of two upstairs side stages on either side of the proscenium, thereby insuring swift scene changes. The production’s uncredited sound design provides a well-balanced mix of vocals and instrumentals despite occasional mike problems on Opening Night. Wigs and hair design by Simi Valley Adult School Of Cosmetology are mostly quite good, though several supporting players do sport some rather anachronistic dos.

Kathee Boyer is producer/stage manager, Lissa Grafton assistant music director, Tami Keaton prop mistress, and Rachel Samuels makeup designer.

In his opening remarks, producer/general manager Ken Rayzor heaped justified praise on the many Moorpark locals who had given of their time and talents to create High Street Arts Center’s production of Hairspray. With tickets running a mere $18 for adults, $14 for teachers, seniors, military and students, and $10 for children 12 and younger, Hairspray in Moorpark may well be Ventura County’s best musical bargain of the New Year.

High Street Arts Center, 45 E High St, Moorpark.

–Steven Stanley
January 6, 2012

Comments are closed.