Theater Review: HAIRSPRAY (National Tour at the Hobby Center in Houston)

Post image for Theater Review: HAIRSPRAY (National Tour at the Hobby Center in Houston)

by Stephen Best on June 9, 2024

in Theater-Regional,Tours


Returning to the Broadway at the Hobby Center series for one week only, the high-stepping, toe-tapping, raucous romp good time known as Hairspray the musical. Join “The Nicest Kids in Town” for a three-hour escapade through history, teenaged angst, a powerful message against the evils of segregation and the importance of inclusivity. With joy peppered in to its oh-so-beating, neverending joy ride and heart, this Tony Award-winning musical comedy brings smiles to the faces, as well as a few well-earned tears of joy.

Caroline Eiseman
Caroline Eiseman, Greg Kalafatas, and company

Let’s quickly revisit the history of all things Hairspray. This material originated back in 1988, in John Waters and New Line Cinema’s cult classic movie of the same name. Launching the career of then newcomer, Ricki Lake, and featuring Water’s frequent onscreen collaborator, Divine, with Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Sonny Bono as the scheming baddies. Fast forward to 2002, Hairspray was brought to the stage as a full-fledged Broadway musical, winning eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, as well as trophies for Marissa Jaret Winokur and Harvey Fierstein, as the dynamic mother/daughter act. The cast also and included a pre-Glee Matthew Morrison and a pre-Xanadu Kerry Butler.

Scarlett Jacques and Josiah Rogers

In 2007, the movie-turned-musical returned to cineplexes, this time starring A-list Hollywood royalty including John Travolta as Edna, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Zac Efron and Queen Latifah. Almost a decade after that, NBC remounted a live television musical, including Tony Award-winner Kristin Chenoweth, EGOT Jennifer Hudson, pop princess Ariana Grande and Dancing With The Stars Emmy-winner Derek Hough in the cast. Today, however, the show has returned to the stage in a gloriously remastered national tour.

Caroline Eiseman and company
Skyler Shields

The story centers around plucky teenager, Tracy Turnblad, played with aplomb by Caroline Eiseman. We are under her delightful spell from the moment she begins the opening number Good Morning, Baltimore.” The spirited, zaftig teen has one ambition, to become a council member and dance on The Corny Collins Show an American Bandstand-type program based in Baltimore. Her worried mother, Edna (a scene stealing Greg Kalafatas) frets they won’t put a girl as heavy as Tracy on air, and that her daughter is setting herself up for a massive disappointment. With best friend, delightfully dorky Penny Pingleton (a dynamite Scarlett Jacques), by her side, Tracy heads to the studio where she comes face to face with her onscreen crush, teenage heartthrob, Link Larkin (Skyler Shields), an Elvis wannabe with dreams of stardom of his own. The roadblocks to her teenage-dreams becoming a reality are racist television producer, the villainess Velma Von Tussle (Sarah Haynes), and her daughter — and Link’s current girlfriend — Amber (Caroline Portner), both putting Turnblad squarely in their nefarious sights.

Deidre Lang and company
Greg Kalafatas and Ralph Prentice Daniel

Frequently sent to after-school detention, Tracy meets a slew of kids of color, and quickly befriends Seaweed J. Stubbs (an electrifying Josiah Rogers). His rendition of Run and Tell That paired with his precision dance moves, proves Rogers should have a long and celebrated career ahead of him. A little cultural appropriation later, Tracy “borrows” all of Seawood’s singular sensational dance moves, and secures herself a spot on the show. Believing everyone should have the right to dance together, Tracy then starts a movement for equality that sets the racially-segregated Baltimore on its ear. Her student activism fuels the engine on this exciting train ride of a narrative. Seaweed’s mother, Motormouth Maybelle (standout Deidra Lang) delivers the emotionally impactful, gospel-tinged power ballad, “I Know Where I’ve Been” to thunderous applause.

Andrew Scoggin

The talent team behind the show is a who’s who of Tony Award-winners and Broadway legends. The music and lyrics, written by Tony Award-winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman is a combination of silly shenanigans and poignant prose that has stood the test of time. “Welcome to the 60s”, sung by The Dynamites (Ashia Collins, Leiah Lewis and Kynnedi Moryaé Porter) is an act one standout, arguably the three strongest voices on the stage. The closing number “You Can’t Stop the Beat” is an anthem of equality and progressive momentum that will stay with you long after the curtain has dropped. William Ivey Long‘s costume design is so well honored here, you would think they are all his Great White Way originals.

Ashia Collins, Leiah Lewis and Kynnedi Moryaé Porter
Caroline Portner and company

It wouldn’t be Hairspray without the gravity defying wigs and hair design, credited to Paul Huntly and Bernie Ardia, with visual nods to the rock band The B-52’s, former first lady, Jackie O and the silhouettes of ancient Greek statuary. David Rockwell‘s technicolor set proved the importance of coloring with every crayon in the box. Robbie Roby‘s energetic choreography paid tribute to the original signature moves of Jerry Mitchell. The same Mitchell behind hits Kinky Boots, La Cage aux FollesOn Your Feet!, and Pretty Woman: The Musical fame, just to name a few. Finally, Jack O’Brien‘s brisk direction has been wonderfully reproduced at the skilled hands of Matt Lenz.

Josiah Thomas Randolph, Kalab Quinn, and Gabriel Yarborough
Deidre Lang and company

Does the chubby girl get the guy in the end? Will the Corny Collins Show become fully integrated? Will the devilish Von Tussles be undone? Well, you have to see the show for answers to all of these questions and more. Well worth your time, the charms of this Hairspray continue to hold tighter than Aqua Net in a rainstorm. Consummately sung, skillfully danced and packed to the gills with scene-stealing comedians, Hairspray the musical is a pre-summer Houston treat to beat the heat.

Josiah Rogers and company

photos by Jeremy Daniel

national tour presented by Broadway at the Hobby Center
reviewed at the Hobby Center in Houston on June 9, 2024
tour continues: for tickets, dates and cities, visit Hairspray Tour

Leave a Comment