AISLE SAY Twin Cities


Book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Whitman and Marc Shaiman
Based on the Screenplay by John Waters
Directed by Jack O'Brien
Choreography by Jerry Mitchell
Staring: Carly Jibson and Bruce Vilanch
Orpheum, Minneapolis, MN (612) 339-7007

Reviewed by Ellen Dworsky and Roxanne Sadovsky

My mother always told me, "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," which might explain why I have been avoiding writing the review for "Hairspray". I wanted to like it—in fact I was the one who wanted to see it. Secretly, I think I was just missing the Orpheum Theater. Isn't it always that way with love-hate relationships? Anyway, I was prepared to love it, but in the end, it was like a Marshmallow Peep—pretty to look at, but sugary sweet and utterly without substance. I have no idea why it won a boatload of awards—

Rox: I do, Elle.

Elle: Of course you do, Rox. And whatever you're going to say, for once, I bet I'll agree with you. Take it away.

Rox: Well, Elle, as I have been saying about most shows lately, especially "big" shows playing to self-expressionally challenged Minnesotans, the trend in pop culture today is clearly: More is better. So while there is nothing negative to say, really, about the whole show (except it is too long, too perfect, too saturated, and just plain overkill—sort of like this sentence), what bothers me more is the mirror it holds up to society. It's saying: "Look everyone! We are a bunch of self-indulgent, gum snapping, triple-tasking, neon-worshipping creatures of flashy convenience!"

Elle: That's quite a mouthful. Couldn't you have just gone your usual route and say that it frightens you that Hairspray won 8 Tony Awards? Because what does that say about the taste of the American people. You know, how America is becoming more dumbed-down every year? Confusing Nutra-Sweet with real sugar? How people wouldn't know substance if it hit them over the head? Keep going, Rox.

Rox: Ok. That's the big picture. The musical itself had some great moments. It also had a lot of crap, but let's save the cheap shots for the other guys. What it comes down to is that there was a lot of talent in this production, but unfortunately it drowned in its own ego. For example, Todd Susman (William Turnblad, Tracy's easy going, deferent dad) was great, especially in the dance number with Bruce Vilanch (Edna Turnblad, Tracy's overbearing mother)–that is until it drags on and on and loses its appeal. Still, I adored Susman's performance throughout the show for its humble, but crisp brevity. By far, he and Sandra Denise (Penny Pingleton, Tracy's best friend) saved the show. Like Susman, Denise was consistent and solid in her portrayal of the ditzy high strung tag along whose good intentions and loving dedication to Tracy and her mission are truly endearing.

On the other hand, while everyone did a great job, I was not impressed by any of the other characters. Good they were, but is good enough? Maybe it's because the musical left out so much of the movie, the weight of the politics regarding race struggle and the movement toward integration, I couldn't feel much for these characters who seemed more like they were protesting for the sake of being on camera.

Anyway, Elle, I could go on and on about what annoyed me, what was great, but I think you get the point.

Elle: The planets must be perfectly aligned or something, because I agree with you. But you didn't mention E. Clayton Cornelious (Seaweed J. Stubbs). He was my favorite by far.

Let me give my final two cent's worth. As usual, I went to the play having no idea what it was about—other than the fact that everyone said the movie was great, so I expected to like it. But was it about anything other than song and dance that looked and sounded much the same from one number to the next? It would seem it was supposed to be about a fat girl's struggle to gain acceptance (by winning the love of a cute guy and becoming a dancer on a popular American Bandstand-like TV show) in a world that looks down at the overweight. This all takes In Baltimore in 1962 as The Civil Rights Movement is gaining momentum. So how could it be so shallow? I realize it's billed as a "Musical Comedy", but even comedies usually have some moments that feel real. But you know what? Had it not seemed like two hours of the same old song and dance, I probably could have accepted its shallow nature and enjoyed it for what it was—a bit of lighthearted fantasy in which the fat girl gets the most popular guy in school and Blacks and Whites all live in harmony and equality. On second thought, after just typing that, I'm not sure I'd ever like a production in which the struggle for equality is played for laughs.

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