Hairspray does not hold up to original version

by Beacon Staff • October 12, 2005

Do you remember your first glass of wine? Whether it was from a $100 bottle or a $5 one is irrelevant since you had nothing to compare it with. The same can be said of the traveling cast version of Hairspray. After winning eight Tony Awards, second only to The Producers, Hairspray captured the hearts of theatergoers.

Now, it comes to Boston for a limited two-week run at the Opera House in an attempt to capture an even larger audience.

The show, based on the 1988 film of the same title by John Waters, brings to the stage the story of 60s teenager Tracy Turnblad, a plus-sized gal with hair as big as her dreams of fame.

Despite other plays that have come to fame in the past three years, Broadway in Boston decided to put up Hairspray for another season. The big question is, does this version live up to the original Broadway production-or for that matter, the touring performers from last season?

Overall, this cast of Hairspray appears to be weak. The star, Keala Settle, as the young Turnblad looks way too old to play the supposedly 16-year-old girl. A choice like that might work on "90210," but not in the theatre. Her performance is unadorned and does not live up to that of Marissa Janet Winokur, who won a Tony for her work.

The other important role in the show is that of Tracy's mother, Edna Turnblad, and requires much energy, enthusiasm and passion. J.P. Dougherty's portrayal in this show only comes off as mediocre and lackluster. Dougherty, who played the role on Broadway as the understudy to Harvey Fierstein, puts nothing of his own creation into the matronly character.

Other uninspiring performances by secondary actors only drag the show down even more, with one exception. Charlotte Crossley, portraying the role of Motormouth Maybelle-an older, heavyset black woman with an appetite for equal rights-has a voice that will make audiences collectively break out in goosebumps.

There have been some set improvements since last year's tour, such as flashier background pieces; however, the technical aspects of the show are catastrophic. The spotlight operators are either inexperienced, ingested too many caffeine pills before the show or had a three-hour seizure, notable by the lack of ability to keep up with the actors until after their lines had passed.

As for sound, one would think with a show where the goal is to get the audience members on their feet for the finale, the crew may want to turn up the volume. The final number of the show, "You Can't Stop the Beat," had a tone of irony, mainly because the sound crew may have had malfunctioning hearing aids, since the sound was so low that it was nearly impossible to hear.

After personally seeing Hairspray six times, with all three casts, I can say this was the weakest of the three. Dougherty might not be Fierstein, however, the essence of those previous performances-the writing, the songs and the dancing-still make this incarnation enjoyable for those who have never seen Hairspray before.

Student rush tickets at $25 will many times land you with an orchestra seat. The main elements of the show do survive the Armageddon of bad actors. It is a good show, but Boston could have received a more talented cast. For those who have seen Hairspray already, pass on this version and save your money for Wicked.

Hairspray will play at the Opera House, 539 Washington St., until Sunday. Tickets are $27.50 to $85; however, student rush tickets may be available for $25 one hour before showtime with a valid student ID.,"David A. Cox"

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