by Terrance Mc Arthur
“Good Morning, Baltimore!”
Those words mean that the Good Company Players have time-traveled back to 1962 and the good old days of racial segregation on teenage dance shows in the musical Hairspray on stage at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater through May 19. What a joyous blast from the past it is!
Based on John Waters’ 1988 subversive comedy about a plus-sized girl and her dreams of starring on local TV and changing the world by integrating the show, this cheerful romp (written by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, with songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) plays over-the-top situations against serious social commentary.
Ashley Wilkinson again returns to the Roger Rocka stage as Tracy Turnblad, the wide-eyed girl-child with an ozone-layer-endangering hairstyle, who wants to be accepted by the mean girls of Baltimore’s teen scene. Wilkinson is big-voiced and big-talented, whether pining for a wannabe teen idol (Alex Figueroa) or blithely not understanding why the “Negroes” aren’t given equal time on the Corny Collins dance show.
Figueroa has that earnest quality he’s honed through several GCP outings, finessed this time with a touch of narcissism. He leads with his chin and his heart as Link Larkin finds love with a less-than-svelte rabble-rouser. How the cast can say some of the lines without dissolving into laughter is a mystery science may never unravel.
Stepping into the large muumuus of Divine, Harvey Fierstein, and John Travolta, Steve Souza dons a dress as Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s mom. The gender-bent role is played with honesty and sympathy as Edna’s crushed dreams spring into flame when her daughter has a chance to shine. Brian Rhea plays opposite Souza with enthusiasm as the towering joke-shop owner praising his wife in the charmingly hilarious “You’re Timeless to Me.”
The ever-amazing Kindle Lynn Cowger has the difficult tasks of trying to look un-pretty and like she can’t dance for half of a musical as Penny, Tracy’s best friend, who falls for a tall, dark, and handsome fellow, which just wasn’t done in racially-segregated 1962 Baltimore. Xavier Gonzalez, as her eventual beau Seaweed, show some smooth moves and an admirable voice. Nirina Rabetsimba, a Junior Company member, gets to belt out and show her stuff with Gonzalez on “Run and Tell That.”
Janet Glaude, a long-standing star in the GCP firmament, is Motormouth Maybelle, the deejay of “Negro Day” on the dance show, and she sings with the authority she’s always had, joining with Souza and Wilkinson in a wild and raucous “Big, Blond, & Beautiful” to close out the first act, and shaking the anthemic “I Know Where I’ve Been” to its gospel roots.
Meg Clark and Mallory Parker make an entitled mother and daughter as the anti-integration side of the TV show, putting down Tracy and her family at every opportunity. Roger Christensen oozes slime as the sponsor of the show, and he gushes as Mr. Pinky, purveyor of fuller frocks for wider women. Jacob Phelan brings a Big Bopper-ish twist to the role of Corny Collins, star of the dance-party show. Ethel Birrell is triply delightful as she prudishly represses her daughter Penny, as she encourages mayhem as a gym teacher, and as she rules the cell-block as a jail matron.
It’s a big, splashy, colorful layer cake of a musical, frosted with lessons of acceptance and diversity. As an appetizer, the Junior Company features songs about “Fashion,” from the Lady Gaga song of the same name, to a toe-tapping “Putting on the Ritz” (No Peter Boyle impressions allowed). Rabetsimba puts a wistful lilt to “Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long,” and Kailyn Sanders taps nimbly while Grace Lott soulfully croons “Mr. Bojangles.”
Hairspray plays through May 19 at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, 1226 N. Wishon at Olive Ave. Tickets can be purchased on their website or by calling the box office at (559) 266-9494.
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