Smile Politely

Hairspray is a standup production

Walking in with vague memories of John Travolta and Queen Latifah in the 2007 movie and without ever having seen a stage production, I had the pleasure of attending CUTC’s Hairspray on opening night. I put on my theatre glasses, which also happen to be my everyday glasses, and I sat down for a wonderful evening of fun, music, and racism.

Hairspray tells the story of Tracy Turnblad (Grace Brown), an “overweight” high school sophomore growing up in 1960’s Baltimore, who spends her days watching The Corny Collins Show after school, hoping to one day become a star and show off her big hairdo. When she auditions for her favorite show, she is faced with the judgmental show business executive Velma VonTussle (Emmy Daniels) and her daughter, Amber (Natalie Deptula), who are doing anything to get Amber the title of “Miss Baltimore.” Tracy conquers onward, not realizing at the time that her passion is a much larger, more important issue than being seen on TV. She falls in love with dreamy Link Larkin (Josh Meesey), and she becomes the voice of integration for persons of all color to dance together on network television and “make every day ‘Negro Day’!” Hairspray has a way of addressing social issues, which are more relevant today than ever.

Directed by Laura Welle, with music direction by Stefanie Davis, this fun and flashy show is sure to make you smile. The crafty and colorful costumes by Laura Vavrin hits the mark and is delightful to the eye. She has really captured the bright, colorful essence that Hairspray should have. Dobbs has designed an awesome set that makes the audience feel like they’re in 1962; the Turnblad house and the Corny Collins set popping the most. They have put together a absolutely fantastic production.

Brown leads the show beautifully as Tracy, and the chemistry she shares with Meesey is perfect. Brown’s rendition of “I Can Hear the Bells” shows just how in love with Link she really is, and, when they both perform “Without Love” with their costars, Cobb and Rosenburg, I really felt a connection.

Corny Collins (Tyler Bowlin) is a delightful host with all the right moves and the right attitude. Watching his faces in the background were some of my favorite parts of the show, and his back-and-forth with Daniels were very memorable moments.

The loving relationship between Edna Turnblad (Meghan Kelly) and Wilbur Turnblad (Kabe Schuster) serve as a reminder that love can be everlasting, no matter what level of success or the size of your dress. Their chemistry in “You’re Timeless to me” was adorable and passionate.

The playful relationship that begins to bloom between Seaweed (Miles Cobb) and Penny Pingleton (Sarah Rosenburg) is almost a show-within-the-show that kept me amused throughout. Rosenburg and Cobb were always surprising, I never quite knew how far their relationship would go.

The unbelievable Motormouth Maybelle (Olivia Nelshoppen), brought the house down singing “I Know Where I’ve Been” and “Big Blonde and Beautiful,” while keeping up her optimism and remaining a bright spot in the cast. 

Madison Grimes takes on three different male roles throughout the show, each having a fun, unique feel to them. I didn’t feel like I was watching a girl trying to be a guy, and, if I hadn’t seen her name in the program, I wouldn’t have known she was female. Grimes was a nice support for her fellow actors.

The ensemble pulls the show together and helps to make it fantastic. Each ensemble member has their own distinct personality, making the show feel real. Whether it’s going through Baltimore, in “Welcome to the Sixties” or Motormouth’s Record shop in “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful,” the cast has constant energy.

I could feel the usual opening night jitters during the first act. It took a couple songs to get away from the dropped lines and missed dance-steps. There were more than a couple times that mics cut out, but I was fortunate enough to be sitting in the second row. Some good moments could have become great moments with more projection and better timing, but that doesn’t mean moments weren’t still good. With some more rehearsal time under their belts, I don’t doubt that each and every one of these kids can become some pretty amazing thespians.

CUTC’s Hairspray really is a good time, and you will not be disappointed. Come, and you will be blown away by the sheer talent of all these young people. Some are sure to integrate seamlessly into the Champaign-Urbana theatre scene.

CUTC’s Annual Kathy Murphy Youth Production of Hairspray runs for one more weekend at the Harold and Jean Miner Theatre at Parkland College. Shows begin at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online (with a small surcharge) and are $15 for adults, $12 for students/seniors and $8 for youth under age 12. 

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