Inland Valley Repertory Theatre opens its 2012 season with a crowd-pleasing production of the 2003 multiple Tony award-winning Hairspray.

Featuring a tuneful score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name, Hairspray The Musical tells the tale of petite but 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, 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.

Reprising the role she played last summer for Moonlight Amphitheatre, Kim Zolozabal is once again an adorably winning Tracy, whether extolling the virtues of her hometown in Hairspray’s bang-up opener “Good Morning Baltimore” or swooning over Link in “I Can Hear The Bells” or insisting to her Momma that she’s a “Big Girl Now.”

Tracy is the daughter of a man-sized woman of ample proportions and a heart of mush named Edna Turnblad, a role originated on film by John Waters muse Divine (an actor of the biologically male persuasion) and on Broadway by the one-and-only Harvey Fierstein. Here the role goes to IVRT Producing Artistic Director Frank Minano, who plays her with ample gusto and a Fiersteinesque growl of a voice. Daryl Mendelson is hilariously quirky as Wilber Turnblad, Tracy’s proud poppa and the love of Edna’s life, duetting with Minano an affectionate “(You’re) Timeless To Me” to audience delight.

A talented featured cast offer first-rate support, beginning with Jamie Pezold as bitch queen Velma and Hannah M. James as her bitch princess daughter Amber, the pair doing everything in their power to derail Tracy’s plans to revolutionize Baltimore TV and become Link Larson’s steady. Petite ball of fire Kim Dalton is one of the cutest, spunkiest, biggest-voiced Penny Pingleton’s I’ve seen (that’s Tracy’s nerdy best friend for the Hairspray-uninitiated) and Dominique Petit-Frere is a sexy, sassy Seaweed J. Stubbs, object of Penny’s infatuation. Seth Salsbury has clearly done his teen idol homework in creating a swoon-worthy Link any teen Baltimorean would fall for. Cesare G. Quintero makes for a charismatic Corny, Brinie Wallace is a big-piped Lil Inez, and Jackie Cox is suitably prudish as Penny’s conservative mom Prudy. Lucinda Smith and Peter Varvel have great fun with their multiple character tracks as Female and Male Authority Figures.

Justin High, Natasha Reese, and Katherine Washington harmonize to soulful perfection as the Shirelles-like Dynamites. Nicholas Jesse Aguirre (Brad), Nicole Bravo (Brenda), Kelsey Browne, Lindsey Conway (Lou Ann), Chaz Feuerstine (Fender), Marcus S. Daniel (IQ), Bryan Martinez, Renna Nightingale (Shelley), Scott Taylor-Cole, Elizabeth Maria Walsh (Tammy), Chantz LaGrant Ward (Sketch), and Jazmin Young (Tammy) bring plenty of energy to their roles as Corny Collins’ Show regulars The Nicest Kids In Town, and the same can be said for Jeannette Farris DeGrave, Jocline Mixson, and Bryant Watson as the Detention Kids, though the absence of at least one additional African American male is noticeable.

Finally, the fantabulous Vonetta Mixson is indeed a “Big Blonde And Beautiful” Motormouth Mabel, whose sensationally performed “I Know Where I’ve Been” encapsulates the Civil Rights movement in four inspiring minutes.

Director Ray Limon clearly knows his Hairspray well, adding personal touches along the way, in addition to choreographing numerous energetic dance sequences, including “The Nicest Kids In Town” and the infectious grand finale “You Can’t Stop The Beat.” Only a dance-free “Good Morning, Baltimore” falls flat despite Zolozabal’s delightful vocals.

Musical director/contractor Ronda Rubio brings out the vocal best in her large cast in addition to conducting a terrific live seven-piece orchestra with Rubio on keyboard, Jeff Askew on guitar, Stephan Cardenas on woodwinds, Albert Garcia on bass, Takako Nakano on trombone, Max O’Leary on trumpet, Albert Solorio on drums, and Al Yankee on woodwinds.

Design elements are a somewhat mixed bag. On the plus side are Theatre Co.’s costumes, colorful (and brand-new) early 1960s creations (coordinated by Quintero, Susan Gutierrez, and Dani Everts) and Lucinda Smith’s ‘60s properties. Nick Galvan’s topnotch sound design insures a just-right mix of orchestra and voices. Daniel Moorefield’s lighting design is mostly quite good, though there were some slightly mistimed cues and misdirected spots on Opening Night. More problematic is the production’s scenic design, modified to the best of his ability by Mark MacKenzie from the set of the concurrently running The Drowsy Chaperone. Unlike last year’s Chicago, which fit the weekend Phantom set to a T, Chaperone’s living room set works for certain locales, less well for others, and the use of a street scene scrim and glittery silver curtain don’t equal what one would normally expect from a Hairspray production of this otherwise high caliber. Cliff Senior’s wigs get a qualified thumbs up, since they lack the ultra-big “grand finale dos” that normally add an extra bit of pizzazz to the show’s closing sequence. And speaking of hair, a lady like Edna would never go around with hirsute forearms and pits, their presence here reminding us that we’re seeing a man in drag and not a woman who just happens to be played by a male actor.

Hope Kaufman is assistant director, Martin Dickey is stage manager. Anthony Nuno and Kyle Schumm are crew/spot.

Once again Inland Valley Repertory Theatre is to be saluted for bringing mid-week entertainment to the Candlelight Pavilion. Hairspray is a sure bet to entertain audiences over its all too brief, six-performance run.

Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 West Foothill Blvd, Claremont.

–Steven Stanley
March 28, 2012
Photos: Terre Gunkel

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