–by Ashley Cox
You could not stop the beat this weekend at the Stifel Theater when the touring company of the Broadway musical came through town for two short days. The 1988 John Waters’ movie, turned Broadway Musical, turned 2007 movie based on the Broadway musical based on the 1988 movie starred St. Louis’s own Caroline Eiseman as 1960’s teen Tracy Turnblad navigating raging hormones and intense Super Clutch usage while also dealing with the heavier subjects of body image and racial integration in Baltimore, Maryland.
The staging was immaculate. I have seen Broadway tours that try to shove as much set onto the stage as possible to the detriment of the ensemble’s ability to perform. Hairspray featured flat backdrops and small rolling platforms deftly moved by costumed staff, not black morph suits, to move around the sets. You were never distracted from the performance before you. My personal favorite set is Tracy’s bedroom at the very beginning. You open to the top view of Tracy awaking in her bed with “oh-oh-oh” big dreams, the set is then swung around to reveal her street in Baltimore.
Musically, Hairspray benefits from having no weak songs. Usually you get one skip on the soundtrack and there may be times I am not in mood for “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” but it is such a character-building moment for our main girls, including understanding that a lot of Amber’s ugly personality traits are instilled by her mother. “I Can Hear the Bells” is a regular rotation of songs stuck in my head and “You Can’t Stop the Beat” is the best finale song of any musical I have ever seen. The sheer energy that starts coursing through my veins when I hear that song and see the dance brings me to a crescendo of joy which theater is all about.
In case you haven’t noticed my foaming-at-the-mouth love of Hairspray, it also contains one of my favorite characters in Broadway history, Seaweed J. Stubbs. Josiah Rogers joins the pantheon of Seaweed’s of Broadway, film, and television (don’t forget about Hairspray LIVE). Charismatic and kind, the character is consistently lovable and provides the entrance of Tracy just talking about integration to taking a stand for it. The Stubbs family cements the reality and importance of Hairspray’s message. It isn’t about tall hair. It is about remembering and recognizing our past’s mistakes and how they can happen again if we do not pay attention and take action.
Sarah Hayes as our Miss Baltimore Crabs, Velma Von Tussle, brings a beautiful “The Emperor’s New Groove” Ymza energy that I have not seen before. Her swaying and contortions during “Velma’s Revenge” was riveting. Original FlyGirl, Deirdre Lang was glorious as Motormouth Maybelle. She hit and held a note during “I Know Where I’ve Been” that had the crowd give an almost deafening cheer. Notables from the ensemble include Kynnedi Moryae Porter as a Dynamite, Christy Oberndorf as Tammy, and Emannuelle Zeesman as the multi part player “female authority figure.” The title does not give adequate weight to her comedic chops and importance throughout the show.
While you have missed the Saint Louis dates for Hairspray, upcoming shows include a one day stop in West Lafayette, Indiana and a three day stint in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Much like teen love, the show dates in each city can be short and sweet so act fast. You can visit the beautiful Stifel Theater’s next shows which feature the talented St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Carmina Burana’ soaring notes will fill the hall on February 17th and 18th. In celebration of Black History Month, the program “Lift Every Voice ” featuring IN UNISON chorus will be performed on February 23rd.