Saturday, May 12, 2012

You Can't Stop the Beat: 10 Years On, 'Hairspray' Still Holds Its Frizz at Drury Lane Oakbrook -- Theater Review

Theater Review

Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook
Thru June 17

In addition to finding it a fantastic musical, I've had a special affinity for Hairspray since the first time I saw it on stage.

Not because of the John Waters movie that inspired the adaptation; for no good reason, I've never seen it.

But because back in June 2002, already with a voracious appetite for musicals, I happened to be go on a trip to Seattle with no awareness that Hairspray was even being turned into a stage musical, let alone having a pre-Broadway tryout at the 5th Avenue Theater.

Despite already having tickets to a Mariners game and a play, and intending to drive to Vancouver, Victoria, Olympic National Park and Aberdeen, a newspaper ad in the dear departed Seattle Post-Intelligencer excited me enough that I used a computer at the company store of Microsoft's headquarters to buy a ticket for Saturday night--and then made sure I got back to Seattle in time.

I thought the show--music, lyrics, storyline, book, dialogue, message, humor, all of it--was phenomenal and before I even left the balcony, I called my mom and told her that Hairspray would win the Tony for Best New Musical the following June (after it had moved to Broadway).

It did.

So although I've since seen the show on early tours in Chicago and Milwaukee, and its first local staging at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire in 2009, given the wonderful productions I've seen of late at Drury Lane Oakbrook--including The Sound of Music and Sweeney Todd last year--and the confluence of an 11am job interview in Naperville and a half-price ticket through, I decided to check out how Hairspray was holding up ten years after I first caught a strand.

I'm happy to report--as attested to by an auditorium full of dancing octogenarians--that it remains a robustly bouffant delight. Even if the DRO rendition was a tad less ebullient than I recall the pre-Broadway version, and a few roles weren't performed quite as flavorfully as I've seen before, it's quite possible that Chicago area residents will never again have a chance to see a production of Hairspray this good again, especially for so little money.

I paid just $17.50 before fees for a show that had 17 Equity contracts--including Felicia Fields, Tim Kazurinsky and Michae-Aaron Lindner--among a cast of 33.

With the Broadway run over and the original national touring cycle long completed, any future national tours are likely to be fully non-Equity and even if another stellar local troupe--Light Opera Works, Paramount Theatre Aurora, Marriott again, etc.--stages Hairspray, tickets won't be any less expensive and it'd be hard for the quality to be significantly better.

Tracy Turnblad can't be that easy a role to cast, but Lillian Castillo was perfectly sung as the little big girl who wants to dance and change the world at the same time. As Edna, the role originated by Divine (in the non-musical movie) and Harvey Fierstein on-stage, Michael-Aaron Lindner was dramatically and vocally stellar, even if not as humorous as past Ednas. SNL vet Kazurinsky was fun as Wilbur and Felicia Fields sounded typically great as Motormouth Maybelle.

Without having seen the Waters movie, I don't know how much credit he deserves for how well the musical's civil rights storyline works, but with music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (also responsible for such on TV's Smash) and a book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Hairspray is more effective in covering socially-conscious ground that Memphis would later traipse.

Given this week's news about gay marriage being rejected by North Carolina and endorsed by President Obama, and the high school bullying incident for which Mitt Romney apologized, the set-in-1962 scenario of Hairspray seems as relevant as ever, as does the musical 10 years down its road. (This seems like a good place to reference my previous post, about bullying.)

Drury Lane Oakbrook deserves much praise for the level at which its shows now regularly seem to reside. I've enjoyed going there for years, but in the past few DRO has noticeably stepped up its game, including large casts, first-rate performers & directors and impressive scenery on a relatively small stage.

Understandably given the weekday matinee, there was a large motorcoach crowd of seniors, a group every local theater should pray stays alive forever.

But there was also a surprising number of empty seats. Hopefully this isn't the case at evening and weekend shows, especially with free, easy parking making the Goldstar discount pricing even more of a bargain.

Hairspray stands as one of the best musicals of the 21st century and Drury Lane Oakbrook is presenting it at near-Broadway quality for--particularly with readily available discounts--very reasonable prices. If you love musicals, want to see the art form remain commercially viable on a local level and especially if you have never seen this show, there's no reason you shouldn't catch Hairspray while you "can."

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