Review: ‘Hairspray’ by Reston Community Players

Reston Community Players has built a reputation of presenting professional-quality theater that surpasses expectations of volunteer-based community theater, and their most recent production is no exception. With Director and Choreographer Erich DiCenzo’s guidance, and Music Direction by Kirsten Boyd, RCP has created yet another smash hit with stunning vocals, make-you-twitch-in-your-seat dance moves, and infectious laughter in their production of Hairspray!

The cast of Reston Community Players' production of Hairspray, playing through November 10. Photo by Chip McCrea Photography.
The cast of Reston Community Players’ production of Hairspray, playing through November 10. Photo by Chip McCrea Photography.

The Broadway musical with Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Music by Marc Shaiman, and Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, was based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name. Hairspray is the story of the underdog and the oppressed, rising up to face “the man,” proving their worth and gaining the recognition and rights that they deserve–with ’60s-style R&B and pop music, and humor that borders on vulgarity, to make the dose of social justice preaching go down the throats of the mainstream masses a little smoother.

The musical follows Tracy Turnblad (Dana Robinson), an overweight high school student who dreams of being on the teenage dance program, The Corny Collins Show. Despite her mother, Edna Turnblad’s (David M Moretti), trepidations that “big girls don’t get put on television,” Tracy goes to the audition, where she is mocked by the producer of the show, Velma Von Tussle (Katie Kramer) and her privileged daughter, Amber Von Tussle (Maura Lacy), who is also one of the dancers on the show.

But Tracy is nothing if not resilient and, with the support of her dad, Wilbur (Richard Bird), and less rhythmically inclined bestie, Penny Pingleton (Eva Gary), and with the guidance of one of Corny Collins’ “Negro Day” dancers, Seaweed J. Stubbs (Jalen Robinson), Tracy dances for Corny Collins (Benjamin Simpson) himself and makes it onto the show. But succeeding in her dream is only the beginning for Tracy. Having her eyes opened to the unfairness of segregation, she focuses her attention on combining the two dance groups so that everyone can dance together.

Robinson plays the determined and upbeat Tracy with passion, belting out the opening number, “Good Morning Baltimore,” and illustrating the contagious, sunny optimism of her character. Gary as Penny is the ever supportive, devoted friend that everyone would love to have. Though her appreciation of good music and dancing is somewhat miraculous based on her horrendously awkward (and often show-stopping) portrayal of a young girl aggressively devoid of rhythm.

The mother-daughter dynamic is another main theme in the musical. Tracy (Robinson) and Edna (Moretti) have a loving relationship. The two may not agree but they adore one another, and Edna goes on her own journey in the musical as she begins to embrace her plus-size body and gain confidence in herself. As the two sing “Welcome to the 60s,” Edna is transformed from a frumpy housewife into a stylish mama with curves.

Velma (Kramer) and Amber’s (Lacy) relationship is quite the opposite of the positive, supportive Turnblads’. Kramer is only concerned about her own success and lives vicariously through her daughter, without any real concern about what Amber wants or needs. Velma reminisces about her beauty queen days in “Miss Baltimore Crabs.” Kramer plays the snobbish and sleazy woman well, with her dimwit daughter echoing her nastiness.

Penny (Gary) and her mother Prudy Pingleton (Amy Griffin) are a very different mother-daughter team. Griffin is unreasonably strict, bordering on psycho, and, well, prudish. She is appalled to discover that Penny has become involved, through Tracy, with the charming Seaweed (Robinson) and attempts to (unsuccessfully) tie Penny to her bed to keep her out of further mischief.

Robinson and Gary, as Seaweed and Penny, are a highlight of the whole show. A combination of Seaweed’s slick dance moves and smooth singing of “Run and Tell That” and Penny is instantly smitten. Her enthusiastically spastic dancing is hilarious, and the unlikely couple fawn all over each other, with Seaweed trying to tone down and refine Penny’s moves.

Not to be overlooked is the voluptuous Motormouth Maybelle (Bruni Herring). Herring’s voice raises the house up with her sassy “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful” toward the end of the first act. She then brings the house crashing down with the powerful “I Know Where I’ve Been.” Maybelle is the producer of Collins’ “Negro Day” and mother to Seaweed and Little Inez (Jessica Walton). She is a true leader, helping Tracy and the other kids transform their angst and frustration into an actual plan to march for integration.

And no musical is complete without its primary love interest. Link Larkin (Jake Lefler) takes up that role. Lefler plays Link as a likable, well-meaning character. He’s mixed up with some mean people, but truly believes in doing what’s right. Toward the beginning of the show, Link accidentally bumps into Tracy, compelling her to sing about her real love and devotion to him in “I Can Hear the Bells.” Later, he serenades her with “It Takes Two.” Tracy manages to plant a kiss on him right at the end of the song, which Link, though surprised, happily receives.

Shout-out to the hilarious Amy Griffin, who also doubled as the Gym Teacher and the Matron, two brief, but largely funny, character roles. And also to the Dynamites- Judine (Khanner Hancock), Kamilah (Alexis Shellow), and Shayna (Tatiane Jones)- whose vocals received hoots, snaps, and shouts of “hot damn!” from the audience, every time they sang.

The cast of Reston Community Players' production of Hairspray, playing through November 10. Photo by Chip McCrea Photography.
The cast of Reston Community Players’ production of Hairspray, playing through November 10. Photo by Chip McCrea Photography.

Reston Community Players has taken the important message of social inequality, in the guise of the fun-loving, freewheeling good time of Hairspray and brought it to their audiences with gusto. The set design (Dan Widerski) and costume design (Lori Crockett and Ashley-Rose Dickey) are period-appropriate and enhance the built-in colorful flare of the musical. The whole cast does an amazing job of executing DiCenzo’s lively choreography and keeping the energy of the show at its peak the whole time.

Hairspray is a family-friendly production, and with the greater theme of prejudice and civil rights being as relevant today as ever, the musical is the perfect way to expose those young and old to the message in a more relatable and flat-out-fun way.

Granted, one can ignore the message and just enjoy the silly jokes and beautiful music but, as Erich DiCenzo and Kirsten Boyd mention in the Director’s Notes of the Program, “We hope that you enjoy our production, that you’ll watch with your toes tapping. But at the end–when the final curtain falls–we hope those taps will have been motivation to march. To stand up. To advocate. And most importantly, to protect.”

Congratulations to the cast and crew of RCP’s Hairspray for creating a fine piece of theater that utilizes the art the way it was always intended, with inspiration, connection, reflection, and betterment.

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Hairspray plays through November 10, 2018, at Reston Community Center’s CenterStage: Hunters Woods Village Center, 2310 Colts Neck Road, in Reston, VA. To purchase tickets, call the box office at (703) 476-4500, or go online.

Producer Jacob Ferchaud, Stage Manager Colleen Stock, Assistant Stage Manager Sandy Dotson, Master Carpenter Dan Widerski, Lighting Designer Andy Shaw, Sound Designer Phil Natalini, Harriman F. Spritzer- Wayne Jacques, Gilbert- Khyrin DeBose, Stooie- Brandon Steele, Cindy- Sierra Aylor, Lorraine-Aliya Gardner, Tammy-Teryn Cuozzo, Brad-Steven Eckloff, Fender-Kurtis Carter, Brenda- Evie Korovesis, Sketch- Henry Metcalf, Shelley-Ashley Kaplan, IQ-Hunter Gross, Lou Ann-Madalyn Farmer


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