A stellar ‘Hairspray’ on tour at the National can’t stop the beat

The timeless musical's energy and exuberance are front and center.

This Hairspray was the third go-around for me! I saw the show first on Broadway, with R&B star Tevin Campbell as Seaweed, then at Kennedy Center, and last night at the National.

Each time I was thoroughly entertained, and each time it felt fresh and inspiring. So I was trying to come up with a word that truly expresses my affection for this show and it is rousing!

Because of technical difficulties, there was a 30-minute delay before the curtain, which seemed like an eternity. But the wait was well worth it. The energy and exuberance were front and center and remained throughout the show. You would think my familiarity with the show would render it without the surprises one hopes for in musical theater. However, this performance gave tremendous witness to what talent, expertise, imagination, and highly skilled technical production values can do to “an old chestnut.”

‘Good Morning, Baltimore’: Niki Metcalf as Tracy Turnblad in ‘Hairspray.’ Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Let’s start with the casting: the lead role of Tracy Turnblad, the plump and cruelly maligned teenager who just wants to be on a local TV dance show was portrayed by Faith Northcutt, the understudy. Seeing her it was hard to imagine how much better the original lead, Niki Metcalf, could possibly be. From Northcutt’s initial appearance getting out of bed and singing “Good Morning Baltimore,” she draws you in with her vocal clarity and melodic playfulness (much like you would expect of a 16-year-old). In the script, Tracy’s physicality brings her scorn and criticism from her peers, showing how senseless and cruel body shaming can be. But the vulnerability Northcutt conveys really underlies her true strength of character. Brava!

The second standout performance is the role of Tracy’s mother, Edna, a more mature version of her daughter. This role was originated by the inimitable Harvey Fierstein, and his brilliance designated drag casting for all future productions. Edna is portrayed by Andrew Levitt, a standout of Season 11 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. His comic sensibility and physical adroitness (for a 6-foot-4-inch man in women’s clothes) are a joy to behold, and the interplay between him and Tracy as well as with Edna’s husband, Wilbur (Christopher Swan), is a touching portrait of familial love, support, and understanding. Wow!

‘Welcome to the 60s’: Niki Metcalf as Tracy Turnblad, Andrew Levitt (aka Nina West) as Edna Turnblad, and company in ‘Hairspray.’ Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Then there is Motormouth Maybelle (Sandie Lee), a proud, middle-aged Black mother who hosts a dance show for Black teenagers but who is also a proud and stalwart crusader for racial equality in her community. She is authoritative, without being domineering, and is a woman who has learned the hard lessons of racial discrimination. She brings it out forcefully in her beautifully rendered “I Know Where I’ve Been,” a song that gives the show a stirring moment of insight and poignance not generally expected in musicals. Kudos!

‘Run and Tell That’: Brandon G. Stalling as Seaweed J. Stubbs and the company of ‘Hairspray.’ Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Finally, this company of performers is all accomplished as singers, dancers, and definitely actors, and their ensemble enactments are a director’s satisfaction and an audience’s joy. The technical support is equally outstanding. The direction of Matt Lenz, the choreography of Michelle Lynch, the costumes by William Ivey Long, the scenic design by David Rockwell, the wigs and hair design by Paul Huntley and Richard Mawbey, the lighting design by Paul Miller, and the sound design by Shannon Slaton are all top-notch and make the telling of this timeless story all the more believable and meaningful.

It all ends with a celebratory, spirited, and jubilant rendition of “You Can’t Stop the Beat!” Yeah, rousing is just the right word for this stellar production.

Running Time: Approximately two hours 30 minutes, including one intermission.

Hairspray plays through May 15, 2022, on tour at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC. Evening performances each day are at 7:30 pm. Matinee performances on Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15, are at 2 pm. Tickets (starting at $50) are available online.

The Hairspray North American tour cast and creative credits are here.

COVID Safety: All guests must provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 with a photo ID before entering The National Theatre. For guests under age 12 and those who need a reasonable accommodation for medical reasons or due to a sincerely held religious belief, please review the Frequently Asked Questions at COVID-19 Info Center for additional information. Masks are required for all guests, regardless of vaccination status and/or age. Masks must be worn at all times.

Broadway at The National to kick off 2022-23 season of hit shows (season announcement)

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Michael Sainte-Andress
Michael Sainte-Andress is truly an asset to the DC Metro area and is highly regarded among local government, business, education, HIV community, and faith-based organizations.  He champions arts education in public schools, adult literacy, voter registration, and civil/human rights.  He is also a tireless advocate and courageous visionary for people living with HIV and has selflessly allowed his own journey (diagnosed HIV+ in 1986) to be an inspiration to those who witness his work in his community.  He is a graduate of Lincoln University (PA) with a degree in English and Sociology.  He is an educator, a professional multi-threat entertainer (actor/producer/director), an award-winning poet and writer, but more importantly he is fully committed to making the world a better place in which to live.  He honorably served in the U.S. Navy and since 1974 has made DC his home.  He is a two-time Mayoral appointee to the Ryan White HIV  Health Services Planning Council and a Mayoral appointee to the Citizens Police Complaint Review Board.  He does all these things with a determination and sense of purpose that is remarkable.  A good description of him is that of a “good soldier."


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