Wednesday, January 19, 2011

REVIEW: Manatee Players hit big with 'Hairspray'

The Tony Award-winning song and dance version of John Waters’ 1988 cult film “Hairspray” ran on Broadway for the vast majority of the past decade. A big-budget movie version of the musical comedy played cinemas nationwide a few years ago. The Manatee Players’ production — running through Jan. 30 in the cozy confines of the Riverfront Theater in downtown Bradenton — should be a treat for local theater enthusiasts regardless if you’ve already seen it on the Great White Way or sat through the film starring John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Walken.

The Players’ version teems with cheer. The young, talented cast imbues the production with a freshness that proves smile (and laugh) inducing throughout. The musical also serves as a reminder of how society has changed for the better — and can continue to improve if we all embrace the winning spirit of fearless hero Tracy Turnblad.

Set in Baltimore, 1962, “Hairspray” adroitly tackles race relationships, body image issues and the generation gap of the era without ever feeling preachy. It’s a smart, delightful musical with a positive message about acceptance. The Players hit the right note on practically every jubilant number and busy but well-executed scene — especially nailing the overall brilliance of the deceptively simple tale of early ‘60s youth culture.

Kyle Ann Lacertosa BY PAUL VIDELA
Pleasantly plump teenager Tracy (Kyle Ann Lacertosa) wins a role on the TV dance program “The Corny Collins Show” and uses her celebrity to integrate the whites-only broadcast. She’s supported by her hilariously sweet, socially progressive mom Edna Turnblad (Michael Bajjaly in drag, just has the role has traditionally been performed) and endearingly goofball dad Wilbur Turnblad (Lee Schlesinger). Miss Teenage Hairspray front-runner Amber Von Tussle (Trina Rizzo) and her racist, showbiz mom Velma Von Tussle (Melanie Souza) play the villains.

Lacertosa exudes charming innocence and warmth as the lead. She’s the performing arts teacher at Cardinal Mooney High School and has directed numerous performances on the Mooney stage. The diminutive star has adorably young facial features and easily passes for a teenager all the while bringing the acting and vocal chops of a veteran/educator.

Rizzo, a junior at Manatee High, holds her own as the ultimate mean girl. She relishes her role as the bratty beauty, singing and delivering her lines with near pitch perfect cattiness. And by the end, Rizzo even makes us sympathize with her a bit, which is quite an accomplishment given her treatment of Tracy.

Bajjaly had no problem generating big guffaws as Edna while Phyliss Banks proved terrific as the rhyming Motormouth Maybelle. The ensemble, meanwhile, added significantly to the wonderfully orchestrated dance numbers that fill the room with intoxicating verve.

Credit director and choreographer Rick Kerby for a pretty much spot-on staging that sustains its gleeful momentum from start to finish. Implementing superbly minimal, funky scenery designed by Donna Buckalter, killer period costumes by Jared Walker and a first-rate community cast, the Manatee Players’ artistic director has created a highly recommended crowd-pleaser with wit and a heart as big as its hair.

Click for ticket info.

1 comment:

Liz_Rosenberg said...

I agree! Was very pleasantly surprised by the energy of the whole cast-- the main girl is light on her feet and has a great voice. The "mean girl" does a great job and some of the chorus stands out as well-- notably the girl in the red dress and the youngest of the "Negro" dancers in a mustard shirt--- you can see these are young stars in the making. The audience had a great time and the moral of the play is still timely-- don;t judge people by appearance, weight, race or anything else thats just on the outside. Lots of fun for the whole family, a few racy jokes, they'll fly over the heads of the little ones. My 7 year old had a great time.