Timely as ever, ‘Hairspray’ showing at Littleton Town Hall through June 18
Special to the Daily
If you go …
What: “Hairspray,” a musical comedy.
Where: Littleton Town Hall Arts Center, 100 miles from Vail.
When: Through June 18.
Dinner before the show: Check out the Breckenridge Brewery Farmhouse on Santa Fe, where an upscale pub menu is served alongside BB beers and guest brews.
The setting for “Hairspray” may be 1962 Baltimore, but the themes of exclusion, racism, tolerance and pleas of can’t-we-all-just-get-along are hyper-relevant again in 2017 America.
At a recent packed house at Littleton Town Hall Arts Center, audience members seemed on board with the show’s message that it’s a lot more fun to dance together than fight with or shut out whatever demographic we find undesirable.
But while “Hairspray” contains plenty of on-the-nose messages about politics and society, it’s ultimately a whirlwind collection of fun ’60s dance music and R&B accompanied by a well-chosen cast of — count ’em — 26 movin’ and groovin’ on Town Hall’s diminutive stage.
Deftly directed and choreographed by Nick Sugar, the multi-racial cast races through some 20 musical numbers in the two-and-a-half-hour show, using every inch of the stage, the aisles and more.
The performance I saw on May 27 earned a standing ovation, and my wife and I left somewhat surprised at how much we’d enjoyed the show. She hadn’t liked the 2007 update of the film with John Travolta as Edna, and I only vaguely remembered the source material — a 1988 film by John Waters with Divine in the Edna role.
No matter. One of the things we love about theater is that even if you’re not sure about something, you can’t change the channel once the lights go down, and you might get exposed to something great you hadn’t expected.
This production features a breakout performance by recent UNC grad Faith Ford in the lead role of Tracy Turnblad, the zaftig high schooler whose main goal in life is to join the cast of “The Corny Collins Show” — a local TV dance program. But Corny’s show is comprised only of good-looking, lily-white cast members kept in line by grasping, racist producer Velma Von Tussle (Margie Lamb).
Tracy is immediately dismissed at auditions for her weight, but after encouragement by her dad (the delightful Scott McClean) and her best friend Penny (a hilarious, scene-stealing Cara Lippitt), Tracy vows to break down the walls, get on TV and wear the ring of heartthrob Link Larkin (Beck Martin).
Along the way, she enlists the help of the school’s black students, who aren’t happy that the “Corny Collins Show” only lets them on once a month on “Negro Day.” She convinces her house-bound mom Edna to join the fray, and plenty of laughs follow actor Christopher Whyde in an over-the-top drag performance. Her counterpart on the African-American side is local record-shop owner Motormouth Maybelle (Lisa Young). With her blond wig, voluminous muumuus and powerful pipes, Young’s character embodies the power and moral righteousness of a black woman hoping to change a segregated society but fully aware of the dangers such change can bring.
With the cast divided between those who want full integration, those who like things the way they are and wafflers in the middle, it takes two characters to effect the change needed: Tracy, with her indomitable spirit, and Corny himself, who just wants everyone to have fun and sees the business case for inclusion to help the bottom line of the show’s sponsor, a hairspray manufacturer.
Usually to see a big musical this well produced, you’d have to go to a much bigger theater. Littleton Town Hall’s relatively small house offers the chance to see some topnotch talent right in front of you. It’s a well-directed, well-choreographed show with an impressive array of period costumes and set pieces. It’s well worth the trip.