'Hairspray' has all the right moves

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 1, 2011

By Deirdre Parker Smith
Well, folks, what we have here is a hit. A standing ovation, thunderous applause and whoops of approval greeted the cast of Piedmont Players’ “Hairspray” on opening night.
The loudest cheers went up for Meghan McLaughlin as Tracy, our star, and Gary Thornburg, who plays Tracy’s mother Edna (more on that phenomenon later), Dan Ryan as Corny Collins and Alexis Greer, whose solo numbers nearly brought the house down. That woman can sing.
There are numerous outstanding cast members in this show. The prize for funniest goes to Thornburg for his turn in a fat suit, a dress and heels. Nice legs there. His outrageous costumes and makeup are just part of the package.
One of the best songs in the show features Thornburg and Marty Walker, who plays Tracy’s father, in “You’re Timeless to Me.” It could be a hysterically funny song, but the pair made it sweet and funny at the same time. That was another show-stopper.
McLaughlin, as Tracy, has some voice, and a great personality on stage. You’re bound to cheer for her and adopt her cause.
“Can’t we all just dance together?” she asks.
There is more to “Hairspray” than letting a plus-size girl go on the Corny Collins show, Baltimore’s version of “American Bandstand.”
It’s 1962, and segregation is the norm. Tracy loves, as she calls it, “Negro music,” and all she wants is to be able to dance to that music with the people who make it.
Call her Rosa Parks with a good beat you can dance to.
So, there is some redeeming social message here — tolerance, even acceptance, for people who are different.
But mostly, there’s music.
Another great performer is Ginny Weant as Tracy’s friend Penny. Who knew she could sing and dance like that? Michael Stone is suave and loyal as Link Larkin, Elvis-wannabe, who ditches a dumb blonde for the voluptuous Tracy.
Marvin King is smooth as Seaweed J. Stubbs, a long drink of chocolate milk who falls for little Penny. They really behave as a young couple in love for the first time. There goes another racial barrier.
There’s Jackie Batten as Seaweed’s determined little sister. Their mama is the incomparable Greer, playing Motormouth Maybelle, owner of a record store selling that irresistible black music. Greer’s showcase is “I Know Where I’ve Been,” which nearly earned an ovation by itself on opening night.
Dan Mikkelson is a man of many parts, from the hairspray mogul to the proprietor of the plus-size store to a cop in the jail, where most of the cast ends up.
You’re going to love to hate Amber and her mother, Velma Von Tussle. Both bubble-headed bleached blondes, they will do anything to be famous. Amber, played by Alana Koontz, leads Link around by the nose for a while, until Tracy comes on the scene, and her nasty mother, played by Wendy Weant, tries to get Tracy kicked off, going so far as cashing in a favor from the governor to keep poor Tracy in jail.
Is all lost when Tracy and friends get busted for trying to integrate the Corny Collins show?
No way. There are more songs to be sung, more feathers to ruffle.
Some young people won’t get the references to the 1960s, but there were enough baby boomers at opening night to laugh at the right places.
The sound needs adjusting again. There’s not much straight dialogue, but what there was was almost unintelligible at times.
The orchestra, conducted by Virgie Taylor and featuring numerous musicians, sounds good and most of the singers are up to the challenge of the volume.
Reid Leonard directed this lively production, and designed the simple sets, with the traditional backdrop of Broadway lights. Many of the costumes were made for this show by a busy sewing group.
The teens and younger children at opening night seemed to be having fun, as did their parents. It’s just more than two hours, including a 20-minute intermission. And it’s good, clean fun.
“Hairspray,” underwritten by Wachovia and Bill and Cora Greene, continues tonight and April 6-9 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Meroney Theater in downtown Salisbury. For tickets, call 704-633-5471.