A joyful atmosphere permeated Encore Theatre on Friday evening. The house was filled near capacity with many new attendees. More than 40 cast members brought out relatives and friends for the opening night of “Hairspray.” They were appropriately thrilled with the entertainment efforts of the enthusiastic cast.
The pleasant surprise was the boundless energy of this production. Choreography is notoriously mediocre in community theater; not so in “Hairspray.” There were so many top-notch dancers that there was no need to search for those who were less experienced. They were having such a good time that the mood was infectious. Kudos to choreographer Karin Dorsey for knowing the capabilities and teaching accordingly.
The production’s sparkle came from the support groups — chorus, dancers, orchestra. Soloists were backed securely by strong voices. Young dancers just tumbled through scenes with acrobatics and jazz hands. And the nine-piece orchestra was dynamic, yet unobtrusive. They were the best in many years. The best compliment for this show is that it is indeed an ensemble.
The leads in “Hairspray” were strong and delivered quite an impact. Julie Reid played the role of Tracy as if she were born to play it. She belted out her songs with Broadway assurance. Gary Martin’s Edna was as ridiculous as it was meant to be. His double EEs arrived on stage long before he did. I am puzzled as to why a male always plays the role of Edna. My guess is that it was written for Harvey Fierstein who created the role on Broadway.
The three charmers in this large cast are Shelby Martell as Penny, Chase Little-Battle as Seaweed and Cedric Gegel as Link. These high-energy scene stealers required our attention every time they came on stage. Musically, Link struggled with harmony and Janelle Beining seemed uncomfortable with the vocal range of her character Motormouth. Overall, the two and a half hours of music was delightfully well performed.
A common problem with musicals is that the second act gets slighted when it comes to rehearsal time. “Hairspray” is no exception. It started weakly after intermission and did not totally recover until the curtain call. Part of the blame goes to the writer. It is difficult to come back strongly after building to the first act finale. However, careful rehearsals can sometimes correct the weaknesses.
“Hairspray” provided a tremendous catalyst for future Encore productions. First, it became a perfect transition piece for the shift from children’s theater to adult productions. Secondly, about a dozen new faces appeared on stage for this show. Revitalization of Amil Tellers is a good thing, and as the final number proclaims, “You Can’t Stop the Beat.
Many people have loved this show for all of its 12-year lifespan. It won the Tony Award for best Broadway musical and found a cult following for the movie version. While relatively new, it has the flavor of the Rodgers and Hammerstein era. It is a satire of the segregation issues of the 1960s, and there were times when phrases from the ’60s were said with little comprehension by the speaker. Well none of them were around in the ’60s. Hmmm.
“Hairspray” kicks off the 2014-15 season. You have four more opportunities to see it, Sunday, Friday, Saturday and July 27. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” auditions are Aug. 18 and 19.
In the meantime, plan to attend a fundraiser for the theater Aug. 16 or 17. Local talent will perform Broadway show tunes, famous speeches from movies and other theatrical entertainment. Mike Mullen will serve as emcee introducing such locals as Judge Rick Workman, the Rev. David Ross and TV personality George Dunster. Nothing to do in advance except put it on your calendar: 8 p.m. Aug. 16 or 2 p.m. Aug. 17. Donate generously to keep local theater alive and have a good time as well.