Among the many reasons to catch Glendale Centre Theatre’s just-opened production of Hairspray (including a pair of sensational lead performances), there’s one that tops them all—the chance to see “Broadway’s Big Fat Musical Comedy Hit” in the round.

10862_10201965503321854_676745398_n You may have seen Hairspray (or multiple Hairsprays) before—this was my twelfth production of what is obviously one of my very favorite 21st Century musicals—but you’ve never seen it as up-close-and-personal as it is on the GCT stage, and with “The Nicest Kids In Town” performing not only center stage but in the aisles as well, this Hairspray above all others surrounds its audience with Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s tuneful songs and places us smack dab in the middle of Baltimore—and more specifically, inside the studio where plus-sized teenager Tracy Turnblad makes her dream to dance on The Corny Collins Show, a 1962 Baltimore version of American Bandstand, come true.

Based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name, Hairspray The Musical (book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan) gives us one of the most engaging Broadway heroines ever, if not your standard-issue cookie-cutter leading lady.

1185767_10151916877072176_1736760398_n It’s also about as feel-good a musical as has ever packed a Broadway theater, for despite those extra pounds and a then shockingly progressive attitude towards integration, Tracy does indeed realize her dream of becoming a Corny Collins regular. That leaves her 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. Oh, and lest I forget, Tracy just happens to be the daughter of a man-sized woman with a 54-Triple-E bust 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.

1238922_10201965503201851_419848138_n Glendale Centre Theatre has made the inspired decision of bringing back the one-and-only Sam Zeller to play Edna. And talk about versatility! Can you imagine seeing Fierstein—or any other Edna—as Les Miz’s Jean Valjean or Oklahoma!’s Jud Fry, roles which won Zeller two of his three Best Actor Scenies, the third being for guess who? Not only does Zeller make Edna fabulously his own creation (and a loving tribute to his Italian-American mom), he has added new layers to his already sensational performance since playing “big, blond(ish), and beautiful” Edna several years back. I wrote then that “looking like the lovechild of Lucille Ball and Jane Russell on steroids, Zeller’s stellar turn recalls Lucy’s comedic genius and Russell’s glamazon looks.” Ditto 2013, and then some.

It helps too that Zeller’s daughter this time round is the infectiously adorable, utterly winning Kimmy Zolozabal (who’s been awarded not one but two Scenies for playing the Baltimore teen). With stellar vocals, terrific dance moves, and oodles of zest, it’s no wonder a few extra pounds don’t get in the way of Zolozabal’s Tracy finding true love with the hottest Prince Charming Baltimore could offer any would-be Cinderella. And speaking of said prince, dreamy could easily be Nick Echols’ middle name as teen heartthrob Link, with vocal chops to match his tall, dark, and handsome good looks.

In addition to daughter Tracy, Zeller’s Edna could hardly have asked for a more lovable Prince Charming of her own than Scott Strauss’s delightfully goofy Wilber Turnblad, and when the duo do their scene-stealing Act Two song-and-dance to “(You’re) Timeless to Me,” I defy anyone in the audience not to declare these two MFEO.

Surrounding Edna, Tracy, and their men is a terrific bunch of Glendale Centre Theatre regulars and newcomers under the assured direction of Martin Lang.

1186069_10151916877427176_1128631595_n Vivacious Holly Childers somehow manages to make us like mean girl extraordinaire Amber Von Tussle even as we feel tempted to scratch her eyes out, while a vamp-tastic Julia Marie Rodriguez chews scenery with the best Velma Von Tussles as Baltimore’s schemingest TV station exec.

A regal Regan Carrington acts and sings the bejeezus out of “Negro Day” hostess Motormouth Maybell, and never more so than when belting out a powerful “I Know Where I’ve Been.” Hairspray reunites as Motormouth’s offspring recent Dreamgirls stars Frank Authello Andrus Jr. and Tyra Dennis, lending ample charisma and a pair of powerful voices to the roles of Seaweed and Little Inez Stubbs.

Michael Liles is the next best thing to a young Dick Clark as cocky Corny Collins, in addition to stepping into Mr. Pinky’s flamboyant pink shoes at the performance reviewed to fabulous effect. Also stepping into other folks’ footwear with about half an hour’s notice was director Lang, and if it was his first time playing Principal of Patterson Park High School and Ultra Clutch hairspray CEO Harriman F. Spritzer, you’d never have guessed. (Both the audience and this pair of troupers were owed a preshow announcement of their “pinch-hitting.”)

Lisa Dyson, last seen as Golde in GCT’s Fiddler On The Roof, steals every scene she’s in as the Big Dollhouse matron, Tracy’s shower-obsessed gym teacher, and Penny’s controlling mom Prudy. Popping up throughout are The Dynamos, Hairspray’s answer to Dreamgirls’ The Dreams, the big-haired, big-voiced trio of Dennis, Adia Joëlle, and Kymberly Stewart.

Last but not least among principal players is high school senior Shaelan O’Connor, who takes one of the show’s very best featured roles, that of Tracy’s dorky bestie Penny Pingleton, and not only makes it eye-poppingly, originally, her very own, but belts out Penny’s songs with power pipes you’d never expect to burst forth from the real-life teen’s petite pixyish, frame.

1234295_10151916877212176_2125703635_n And then there are the kids, both The Nicest Kids In Town and the Detention Kids of Special Ed—Ra’Shawn Durell, Christa Hamilton, Jacob Krech, Lowes Moore III, Daron O’Donnell, Bridget Pugliese, Bradley Sattler, Paul Reid, Any Lynn Thompson, and Kevin Zambano—each of whom shows off terrifically talented triple-threat talents in musical number after musical number. (Only Reid is miscast in a role which calls for a teen or, at the oldest, a 20something performer.)

One of the biggest pleasures in Glendale Centre Theatre’s Hairspray is watching how director Lang and choreographer extraordinaire Orlando Alexander have customized it to fit GCT’s audience-surrounded square stage as they did in their previous match-ups in Oklahoma! and Fiddler On The Roof.

Less pleasurable for this reviewer was to see O’Donnell and Meehan’s book and Wittman and Shaiman’s lyrics needlessly sanitized so as not to ruffle senior citizens’ feathers. Come on, GCT, and welcome your audience to the 21st Century!

No quibbles can be had with Angela Wood and Glendale Costumes, whose early ‘60s outfits are one Technicolor gem after another, nor with GCT’s always masterful in-the-round scenic design, Jeremy Williams’ first-rate lighting, or sound technician Nathan J. Milisavljevich’s expert mixing of prerecorded instrumentals and live vocals under Steven Applegate’s crackerjack musical direction. Byron J. Batista once again provides Hairspray with his expert hair, wig, and makeup design, and there are some terrific live and filmed projections of both the Corny Collins Show and the original black-and-white American Bandstand.

Laurie Fedor is assistant choreographer. Caitlin Barbieri is stage manager.

For a show to merit as many repeat viewings as Hairspray has for this reviewer, it must have everything. Memorable characters. Check. A can’t-miss plot. Check. Catchy songs. Check. Dynamic dance numbers. Check. And meaty subject matter that still matters a half century after its early ‘60s time frame. Hairspray has it all.

Need proof of the above? You’ve got it, and then some, at GCT.

Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.

–Steven Stanley
August 29, 2013

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