Of the many movies that have been adapted into stage musicals, John Waters’ subversive cult comedy, Hairspray, seemed unlikely to make the transfer successfully. But eight Tony Awards and a 6½-year, 2,642-performance run on Broadway later, such doubts have been put firmly to rest.
And if subsequent regional productions fare as well as the high-energy, hard-driving pop rock production at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, Hairspray is sure to be around entertaining audiences for years to come.
In its explosive finale, Hairspray assures us that “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” just as the Maltz seems unstoppable, showing itself up to yet another musical challenge. From the opening curtain’s television console that gets colorized right before our eyes to the post-show’s confetti air cannon salvo, this tale of plus-sized empowerment, racial equality and romance is in very good hands.
Most of those hands are making their Maltz debuts, including director Bill Fennelly, who sets a relatively realistic tone for the production, without losing any of the considerable comedy. Heading the cast are two more Maltz rookies – Mary DiGangi as chubby sparkplug Tracy Turnblad, a socially conscious lass even if she is depleting the ozone layer with her aerosol hairspray, and hefty Michael Kostroff as Tracy’s wary, insecure mother, Edna, who learns to accept herself as “big, blonde and beautiful.”
Choreographer David Wanstreet puts the cast through such ’60s gyrations as the twist, frug, swim, watusi and Madison. He is a returnee to the Jupiter playhouse, having been featured here in My One and Only 24 years ago in its dinner theater days.
Hairspray is set in filmmaker Waters’ blue-collar hometown of Baltimore during the still racially segregated Kennedy-era days. At least The Corny Collins Show, the local TV teen dance program, is still lily-white, but that might change if Tracy gets her fevered wish to join the on-air ensemble and break the color barrier.
Hairspray will never be confused with Les Misérables, but it does have something of consequence on its beehived mind. The message tends to take a backseat to the entertainment, delivered in a bubble-gum rock, gag-rich score created by Marc Shaiman and his co-lyricist partner Scott Wittman (the wits behind the songs of television’s late, lamented Smash) and a snappy, one-liner-laden script by Tom Meehan (The Producers) and Mark O’Donnell.
Other cast standouts include rhythm-and-blues-belting Altamiece Carolyn Cooper as Motormouth Maybelle, owner of a record store on the black side of the tracks, and Mia Matthews as a crabby TV producer and former Miss Baltimore Crabs. Philip Hoffman underplays nicely as joke shop proprietor Wilbur Turnblad and shines in a Steve-and-Eydie duet (“You’re Timeless to Me”) with his wife Edna. Zane Phillips is hip-swiveling Elvis-wannabe Link Larkin, Tracy’s heartthrob, and Taylor Quick plays Tracy’s meek sidekick, Penny Pingleton, who blossoms during the evening.
Michael Schweikardt’s set is dominated by ever-changing vertical color bands on the backdrop, Kathleen Geldard’s costumes are a period-perfect hoot, particularly the plus-sized wardrobe for Edna and Tracy, and Gerard Kelly has created a parade of outlandish bouffant wigs.
From the infectious overture and throughout the show, Helen Gregory’s nine-piece band is smoking hot, enticing us to dance in the aisles or at least groove at our seats. The show’s plot sort of peters out near the end, but if you just concentrate on the music, you can ignore any dramaturgical shortcomings and have a feel-good blast.
HAIRSPRAY, Maltz Jupiter Theatre, 1001 E. Indiantown Road, Jupiter. Through Sunday, Jan. 28. $58 and up. 561-575-2223 or visit www.jupitertheatre.org.