Chicago Theater Review: HAIRSPRAY (Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace)

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by Dan Zeff on April 23, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


Dan Zeff Chicago Review of Hairspray at Drury Lane Oakbrook TerraceA successful revival of Hairspray demands pinpoint casting in two roles: Tracy Turnblad, the show’s central character, must be short, exceedingly stocky, look like a high school girl, and have a performing motor that doesn’t stop for more than two hours, and Tracy’s mother Edna must be credibly played by a man.

The Drury Lane Theatre comes up very big in both roles. As Tracy, Lillian Castillo looks like a fireplug with feet. She has a huge voice, an endearing stage personality, and enough energy to heat Oakbrook Terrace for an entire winter. And Michael Aaron is the best Edna Turnblad I have ever seen—funny, sympathetic, and not the least bit campy. This is no simpering drag performance. Lindner makes a real person out of Edna, with an emotional depth that enriches the entire production. Plus Lindner can really sing.

The two core characters are the show’s pillars of strength, but they get plenty of support from a complementary cast of young singers and dancers who keep the dancing throttle wide open from opening moment to final blackout.

Dan Zeff Chicago Review of Hairspray at Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace

Hairspray is an adaptation of the John Waters 1988 motion picture about teenage life in 1962 Baltimore. Tracy, the daughter of blue collar parents, wants to dance on the local hit TV teenage dance show, hosted by a Dick Clark clone (or Jim Lounsbury for Chicagolanders of a certain age). Tracy makes it onto the TV show as a dancer in spite of sneers from self-appointed teen queen Amber Von Tussle and her super bitch mother and show producer Velma. The big conflict comes when a group of local black teenagers try to perform on the segregated TV show. Eventually everything works out, resulting in a jubilant climax that blends American Bandstand with Soul Train.

Dan Zeff Chicago Review of Hairspray at Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace

The score by Marc Shulman (music) and Scott Williams (lyrics) is a joyous tribute to the early days of rock ’n’ roll, when the music was fun. The book by Mark O’Donnell and Schulman deftly satirizes the first-generation rock music era and also portrays a period in American life before racial jokes and stereotypes were driven underground by political correctness. Without losing its sense of humor, Hairspray presents a realistic look at the prejudice that blacks experienced in daily life, especially black teenagers enduring racism in school.

Dan Zeff Chicago Review of Hairspray at Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace

The racial element does get a little intense in the second act but it never diverts the show from its primary purpose, which is to offer audiences a succession of high-velocity dance numbers created by choreographer Tammy Mader, who also directs. Castillo is onstage virtually the entire show, having the time of her life, her stamina never flagging. Castillo also has the acting chops to carve out a delightful portrait of one feisty and plucky young lady. Tracy’s parents are poor, and Tracy is no beauty by conventional standards, but there is no self-pity in the girl, just resolve and a very large heart. Castillo’s Tracy should be the poster-child for every teenage girl who feels the pressure of not being rich and gorgeous.

Dan Zeff Chicago Review of Hairspray at Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace

Lindner is paired with Tim Kazurinsky as Edna’s dreamer of a husband, Wilbur. Kazurinsky is about half Lindner’s size, and the Mutt and Jeff physical disparity between the two enhances the comedy without denigrating the real affection that connects Edna and Wilbur. Their duet “You’re Timeless to Me” is wryly humorous and warm, never descending to cheap laughs or mawkish sentiment.

Dan Zeff Chicago Review of Hairspray at Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace

As the black blues diva Motormouth Maybelle, Felicia Fields belts out the emotional “I Know Where I’ve Been,” and has some fun with aisle-sitters who are the happy victims of her saucy burlesque humor. Rebecca Pink is terrific as Penny Pingleton, Tracy’s best friend and a mousy little girl who exisits under her mother’s thumb until Seaweed J. Stubbs comes into her life. And then does the worm ever turn! Jon-Michael Reese sings and dances up a storm as Seaweed.

There is a half-pint 12-year old named Joshlyn Lomax who participates in only one musical number but has the lung power to shatter crystal. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her and if a producer has any plans to revive The Wiz, here is the perfect Dorothy.

Dan Zeff Chicago Review of Hairspray at Drury Lane Oakbrook TerraceThe roll call of solid supporting performers includes Rod Thomas as Corny Collins, the host of the TV show; Erik Altemus as Link Larkin, Tracy’s eventual love interest; and Keely Vazquez and Holly Laurent as the contemptible Van Tussle women, mother and daughter.

Mader keeps her large chorus literally hopping all night. This is not a show for performers who get short of breath after eight or ten go-go-go numbers. The bi-level set by Marcus Stephens is elaborate and resourceful, but the production really doesn’t require scenery at all, as the evening was at its best when a couple dozen dancers did their thing on a mostly empty stage. Charles Cooper designed the lighting, Ray Nardelli designed the sound, and Kurt Alger is the costume designer, responsible for the huge wardrobe of sixties teen-age outfits that add a nostalgic flourish to the proceedings. Alger is also credited as wig designer, meaning he created the monster head of hair that Tracy proudly totted around the entire show.

Hairspray is one of the great audience pleasers in modern American musical theater. Its dancing is irresistible, Tracy Turnblad is a genuine heroine, and the view of racism is apt without taking over the show. Plus, Drury Lane audiences get an introduction to Joshlyn Lomax, a lass with star written all over her.

Dan Zeff Chicago Review of Hairspray at Drury Lane Oakbrook Terracephotos by Brett Beiner

Drury Lane Theatre
Oakbrook Terrace
ends on June 17, 2012
for tickets, call 630 530 0111
or visit Drury Lane

for more shows,
visit Theatre in Chicago


K. Mondy April 25, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Joshlyn Lomax has a beautiful voice. Keep up the good work and your head on straight. Congratulations!!!!!!

R.Lucas May 15, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Joshlyn Lomax, keep up the good work; I see star written all over her face. Congratulations!

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