Apparently, you really can't stop the beat. The rousing, giddy anthem to rhythm that closes ''Hairspray" with a twist will still send you out of the theater smiling, even if the latest touring version, which opened last night at the Opera House, has a few rough patches along the way.
But let's start with the fun stuff. The music! The costumes! The big hair! It's all as fluffy and marabou-trimmed as ever, and the infectious blend of bubblegum pop and inclusive politics that grew out of John Waters's most accessible movie retains all its charm. How can you not love a show that just wants us all to dance together?
And then, of course, there's Edna Turnblad. Following the likes of Harvey Fierstein and Bruce Vilanch in the role of dance-crazy teen Tracy Turnblad's mother, J.P. Dougherty has some pretty big shoes to fill (not to mention those triple-E cups). And, like his predecessors, he succeeds by having fun with it. You don't have to be a fabulous singer or dancer to make the audience love Edna; you just have to act as if you think you're fabulous. He does, and so he is. And ''Timeless to Me," the duet between giant Edna and her sweet pipsqueak of a spouse, here played by Jim J. Bullock with eccentric verve, still delights with its blend of gentle joking and genuine affection. Last night, even when Bullock cracked up at one of Dougherty's more outrageous poses, it only made the audience laugh and applaud the more.
That may be because it was one of the most authentic moments in the whole evening. Elsewhere, in part because of the curiously distant-sounding miking of the singers, a certain synthetic quality dampened what should be some of the big numbers: ''Good Morning Baltimore," ''Run and Tell That," and ''Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now" all seemed oddly subdued, with the performers not doing anything wrong and yet still not really making an emotional connection. Even Motormouth Maybelle's bluesy showstopper, ''I Know Where I've Been," despite Charlotte Crossley's powerful voice and presence, didn't quite break through the sound barrier.
Crucially, Keala Settle's work as Tracy was professional but not engaging. If you don't fall in love with this plus-size dancing dynamo, the show has a little empty spot at its heart. And with no other standouts and some sloppiness in the ensemble work and the lighting cues, you can start to feel as if the bouffant has lost a bit of its pouf.
But it's still a pretty darned attractive 'do. ''Hairspray" may not change the world, but it sure gives us songs to sing while we try.
Louise Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.