Beat goes on for 'Hairspray' in Maine
OGUNQUIT, Maine - "Hairspray" is such a well-constructed musical, it seems unnecessary to do more than follow its successful format. But director/choreographer Donna Drake manages to add some clever touches to her production at the Ogunquit Playhouse that only heighten the high-energy hilarity.
John Waters's 1988 movie has come full circle, morphing into a Broadway musical and the recent film musical starring John Travolta. What enables the story to blossom with each incarnation is its celebration of being different, which the musical's composer, Marc Shaiman; lyricists Shaiman and Scott Wittman; and book writers Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan deliver with such heartfelt joy, it's irresistible. Following the adventures of short, stocky Tracy Turnblad as she integrates a teenage dance show in Baltimore circa 1962 and discovers love is never less than delightful.
The one gimmick in the show is the casting of Tracy's mom, Edna, with a man, following Waters's lead of casting Divine in the original film. For the Ogunquit Playhouse, Boston's own Ryan Landry, leader of the Gold Dust Orphans and writer of that company's "creative interpretations" of many stage and screen classics, puts on Edna's housedress. He may not have the vocal strength of the rest of the company, but Landry is perfectly at home among these seasoned Broadway veterans. Although it's no easy feat to step into the high heels first worn by Harvey Fierstein on Broadway, Landry, with his rubbery face and wonderful sense of timing, acquits himself well.
But even though Landry may have a reputation for scene-stealing, he doesn't have a chance opposite Eddie Mekka, best known as Carmine on TV's "Laverne & Shirley." Mekka, who plays Tracy's dad, Wilbur, is a wonderful surprise, with a terrific singing voice, amazing energy, and acrobatic skill that is jaw-dropping. With his effortless dancing, he becomes the star of the show-stopping duet "Timeless to Me," which he performs with Landry.
As the heroine, Alison Faircloth not only has a killer voice, but facial expressions that work overtime. When she has to be held back from the heartthrob Link during "It Takes Two," Faircloth gets a look in her eye like an animal that's caught the scent of her prey and is ready to pounce. Faircloth also gives Tracy just the right amount of spunky self-righteousness to make us believe she eats her breakfast and then goes out to change the world.
Alex Ellis's performance as Tracy's best friend, Penny Pingleton, is also a standout. Ellis's reactions, her wonderfully goofy expressions, and her deliberately off-tempo dancing all build toward her transformation from gawky girl to liberated woman.
Choreographing for a cast of nearly 30, Drake takes advantage of what might have been a tight stage space to make the show feel as if it might burst out into the audience at any minute. Her little directorial touches, including the appearance of Quasimodo and a teen angel (the wonderfully versatile John-Charles Kelly) add freshness. And music director Brian Cimmet leads his seven-piece band through the rock and gospel-tinged score with an edgy approach that doesn't overwhelm the singers. This is a "Hairspray" that never loses its hold.