Based on the 1988 John Waters film
Book by Mark O’Donnell & Thomas Meehan
Music by Mark Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman & Mark Shaiman
Directed and Choreographed by Matthew McCoy
Bay Area Musicals
Fresh off their San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Annette Lust Emerging Talent Award, Matthew McCoy and Bay Area Musicals has put an eye-popping, foot stomping exclamation point to their fourth season with a joyous production of eight-time Tony Award-winning Hairspray. Buoyed by some outstanding lead performances and a capable, hardworking ensemble, McCoy and his technical crew transport the dingy Victoria Theatre into the early 1960’s with Day-Glo primary colors, authentic costuming, big wigs and the do-wop sound of era. Romance and dance meets intolerance and bigotry in this story of a girl’s desire to integrate the all-white TV sock -hop.
Right from the infectious opening number “Good Morning Baltimore”, you know you’re in for a good time as over-sized Tracy Turnblad (Cassie Grilley) sings of her dreams coming true. Her dream is to dance on the Corny Collin’s TV show, but mother Edna (Scott DiLorenzo in a delicious scene-stealing gender bender role) opposes. Dad (Paul Plain), who runs a novelty store, is fully onboard with his daughter’s dreams. Tracy and her bestie Penny (Melissa Momboisse) crash the tryouts but are rejected by the show’s producer Velma Von Tussle (Sarah Sloan), a former Miss Baltimore Crabs and her repugnant daughter Amber (Lauren Meyer). It’s outsider versus the cool kids that some of us are all too familiar. There’s romance in the works when Tracy falls for Amber’s rock ‘n roll boyfriend Link (Kamren Mahaney).
More than just an outsider becoming hip, Hairspray injects a racial theme when Tracy and Penny learn some new dance moves from Seaweed J. Stubbs (Dave Abrams) and Little Inez (Kennedy Williams) as well as the struggle of African American’s from Motormouth Maybelle (the sensational Elizabeth Jones). The plot involves a protest, arrests and plenty of mocking the white supremacists wrapped in pink chenille cocktail dresses. Costume Designer Brooke Jennings has a field day with fabrics, tulle and colors, and Jackie Dennis’ wigs are characters by themselves.
There are plenty of standout performances on top of the sterling ensemble dance numbers choreographed by Director Matthew McCoy. The characters are of course stereotypical, but the performances are all authentic and believable; Seaweed, Link, Edna, Wilbur, Amber, Corny, Motormouth, Amber, Velma Little Inez and Penny are an amalgam of early 60’s conventions. Jon Gallo’s musical direction highlights the catchy score, and Lynn Grand’s cartoonish set design adds to the fairytale feel. Eric Johnson’s lighting is fantastic – rotating walls of color reflected on a fabric scrim backdrop. McCoy knows how to direct musicals, moving the almost two dozen performers with skill and dexterity.
Grilley is a wonder as Tracy, making you believe in Tracy’s causes of self-expression and racial equality. She’s full of optimism and good cheer with a big belting voice that’s endearing and self-confident. With the stellar performances, tight score, stunning choreography and period look, for a few hours you can forget the outside world and venture back to a simpler, black and white version of America.
Hairspray continues through August 11th, 2019 at San Francisco’s Victoria Theatre (2961 16th St., San Francisco, CA. Tickets available at https://www.bamsf.org/hairspray or by calling (415) 340-2207.
Photos by Ben Krantz Studio