Saturday, March 3, 2012

Applause! Applause! Review of Hairspray at Cultural Arts Playhouse by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of the musical Hairspray performed at the Cultural Arts Playhouse was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and was published in Volume X, Issue 2 (2012) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Cultural Arts Playhouse (625 Old Country Road, Plainview, NY)
Reviewed 3/2/12

Hairspray is a musical with music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman and a book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, based on the 1988 John Waters film Hairspray. The musical's original Broadway production opened on August 15, 2002 and won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It ran for over 2,500 performances and closed on January 4, 2009. The story takes place in 1962 in Baltimore, Maryland, where it is plump teenager Tracy Turnblad's dream to dance on The Corny Collins Show, a local TV dance program. When Tracy wins a role on the show, she becomes a celebrity overnight and launches a campaign to integrate the show.

This revival of Hairspray at the Cultural Arts Playhouse is a high-quality, spectacular, audience pleasing production I guarantee you will enjoy. The cast, set and choreography are top-notch. The story is timeless. Love wins out in the end and justice prevails over bigotry, discrimination and segregation. What could be better!

There are a number of amazing performances in this show. Leslie Mantell is perfectly cast as Velma Von Tussle (former Miss Baltimore Crabs) as is Danielle Jenkin as her daughter Amber Von Tussle (Link's original steady). Both were very believable in their roles. Dalon Bradley was a sparky, soulful surprise as Seaweed J. Stubbs and Tanesha Corbin dominated the stage with her outstanding voice as Motormouth Maybelle (host of Negro Day on the Corny Collins Show). Mike Newman did an outstanding job playing the part of Edna Turnblad (Tracy's "mom"), knowing exactly how to express her motherly concern, insecurity and love for her husband without crossing the line to seek out cheap, crude laughs based on his playing the role in drag.

Katie Morra was Tracy Turnblad, the ambitious, rabble-rousing, firecracker who wants to dance, integrate the Corny Collins Show, and have Link as her boyfriend. She looked the part and got the audience to root for her success. Her girlfriend Penny Pingleton, played by Brooke Grossman, is a fine actress who transformed herself from bookworm to butterfly before the played reached its conclusion.

Who needs Zac Efron when I can have Jake Levy playing Link Larkin four feet from my seat in the first row. Mr. Levy was exceptional, charismatic and perfectly cast for the role. The best way I can describe how I feel about his performance is that if Link bumped into me, even I would "hear the bells" and I don't even believe in those damn bells but for this Link, I'd try to make it work!

Jesse Pimpinella played Corny Collins. In a review written about his performance in the musical 13 (also at the Cultural Arts Playhouse), it was said that Justin Beiber should watch out for this up-and-comer. I disagree. Clearly, Mr. Pimpinella is better looking and more talented than Justin Bieber. If there is any justice in the world, one day he will be much more successful. His performance as Corny Collins was spot-on and he successfully and flawlessly portrayed the older dance show host despite his younger age.

My favorite musical numbers were "Good Morning Baltimore", "I Can Hear The Bells", "You're Timeless To Me" and "You Can't Stop The Beat" but many of the other songs and performances will surprise and please you.

In the past, I had some criticisms with respect to the sound system, concessions, seating and the identification of the actors performing in any particular show. I am pleased to report that all those problems have been addressed and I had a perfect theater experience on the night I attended. The sound system had no flaws I could detect. Concessions was well-stocked. A new Keurig machine allowed me to have a White Hot Chocolate during intermission. There was candy and chips available as well. Seating occurred in the order in which people had reserved and most impressive, the Cultural Arts Playhouse had a video playing on a loop that identified by picture the various cast members playing the parts in this production. All I can say is, "well done!"

Hairspray is playing at the Cultural Arts Playhouse through March, 2012. It is an amazing show! Don't miss it! For only $20.00 a ticket, I recommend you see it more than once. To purchase your tickets, call 516-694-3330 or visit

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