Hairspray is back in town, and just in time to provide an honest-to-goodness live alternative to NBC’s upcoming Hairspray Live. More importantly, thanks to some sparkling lead and featured performances, Cupcake Theater’s mid-sized revival proves a surefire crowd pleaser for audiences from nine to ninety.
Based on John Waters’ 1988 cult film of the same name, the 2003 Broadway smash tells the tale of full-figured teenager Tracy Turnblad’s dream to dance on The Corny Collins Show, a 1962 Baltimore version of American Bandstand.
Anyone familiar with Waters’ movie or its multiple Tony award-winning musical adaptation (book by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, songs by Shaiman and Scott Wittman) knows that Tracy is the daughter of a 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.
Despite some extra pounds and a then shockingly progressive attitude towards integration, Edna’s pride-and-joy 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 Colins 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.
As for its current incarnation at Cupcake’s new digs on Magnolia in NoHo, with Wendy Rosoff providing razzmatazz direction and some of L.A.’s most talented triple-threats singing, dancing, and acting their hearts out, Hairsprays don’t get much more entertaining than this one.
Take for instance Teddy Margas’s larger-than-life star turn as Edna, a little bit Harvey, a little bit Bruce Vilanch, and a whole lot wonderful, and never more so than when proving Edna’s love still flaming opposite David Gallic’s infectiously adorable, undeniably adoring Wilber, their soft-shoe duet to “(You’re) Timeless To Me” proving well worth its built-in encore.
As for Edna and Wilber’s one-and-only pride and joy, I defy you to find a Tracy more downright adorable than Brittany Thornton’s, a bundle of non-stop energy and charm who’s one terrific singer/dancer to boot.
No wonder then that Nic Olsen’s Link (radiating pop-star charisma while showing off Frankie Avalon pipes in “It Takes Two”) is smitten, and speaking of smitten, I defy anyone not to be love struck by Claire Adams’ scene-stealingly weird, wacky, and wonderful Penny, whose dreamboat of a Seaweed J. Stubbs, Devin J. Hall, gives Link a run for his teen idol money.
Carly Lucas makes Amber Van Tussle the teen villainess you absolutely love to hate (and can’t help but like in spite of her mean girl ways), with leggy glamazon Susannah Corrington’s Velma’s earning her very own Mommie Dearest hisses along the way.
Terika Jefferson gives Motormouth Maybelle earth-mother warmth and “Big Blonde And Beautiful” sass, and scores deserved cheers for Maybelle’s heart-rending Civil Rights anthem “I Know Where I’ve Been.”
As Corny Collins, Baltimore’s answer to Dick Clark, Joey Langford has clearly done his American Bandstand homework, and Loreigna Sinclair makes Little Inez a bona fide ball-of-fire charmer.
David Callander and Chrisanne Eastwood garner guffaws galore as Hairspray’s Male and Female Authority Figures, the former as Mr. Pinky’s Hefty Hideaway owner Mr. Pinky, high school principal Patterson, and Mr. Harriman F. Spritzer, the President of Ultra Clutch Hairspray, the latter as Prison Matron, Gym Teacher, and Penny’s prudish mom Prudy Pingleton, the dynamic duo making each and every one of their cameos a distinctively delicious gem.
Elizabeth Adabale, Jordan E. Jackson, and Jenae Thompson Diana and the Supremes a run for their money as Dyn-o-mite! girl group The Dynamites.
As for Hairspray’s multi-talented young ensemble, Kelly Baskin, Markesha Chatfield, dance captain William Clayton, Isaiah Griffith, Ty Koeller, Elijah Malcomb, Bernardita Nassar, and dance captain Megan Nichols shine both individually and in show-stopping dance numbers like “The Nicest Kids In Town,” “The Madison,” “Welcome To The 60’s,” “Cooties,” and “You Can’t Stop The Beat,” with special snaps to the most tap-tastic “The Big Dollhouse” I’ve seen.
Musical director Nick Petrillo and Hairspray’s “Nicest Band In Town” provide topnotch backup throughout, sound design and op by Zach Stauffer.
Scenic designer Rodney “Ben” Warren’s set may not have a polished, big-bucks look, but its groovy shapes and colors evoke the 60s as do a great big bunch of outta sight costumes and Byron Batista’s great big bunch of big-haired wigs, all of the above lit with flair by Kevin Vasquez.
Hairspray is produced by Michael Pettenato. Warren is stage manager and Corrington is assistant stage manager. Brittany Baran is Tracy understudy.
Whether you’ve been around long enough to actually remember the ‘60s or so young that the decade seems as ancient to you as the Greeks and Romans, no show provides more guaranteed family fun than Hairspray. NBC may have “Hairspray Live” on December 7, but to experience it truly live, NoHo’s Cupcake Theater is the place to be.
Cupcake Theater, 11020 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.
November 25, 2106