Welcome to the ’60s! Hairspray is now playing at the Keller Auditorium, and this is one musical you won’t want to miss.
Hairspray will transport you to 1962 Baltimore, but this Tony-award winning Broadway musical — based on the 1988 John Waters film — is just as relevant in 2023 as it was during this fictionalized story more than 60 years ago.
This musical comedy tour, making a six-day pit stop in Portland, centers on Tracy Turnblad, a plucky 16-year-old with big hair and even bigger dreams. Tracy’s favorite thing is to dance, and watch the hip teens bop and sway on The Corny Collins Show (based on the real life Buddy Deane Show) and she’d give anything to join them on screen.
Tracy and her new friends embark on the still-relevant issues of racial inequality, personal identity and body positivity, as told through her journey of auditioning for The Corny Collins Show, and protesting against racial segregation. Though a comedy, Hairspray provides a great jumping off point for families to discuss these timeless topics and why they matter.
Tracy is played by Niki Metcalf, whose charm and captivating voice had us smiling and clapping (and tapping our toes). Along for the ride is Tracy’s BFF, played by Emery Henderson. Henderson is amusing and I found myself wishing her character had more lines. Tracy’s love interest and Hairspray hunk is Link Larkin (played by Nick Cortazzo), whose personal growth throughout the show was a delight to watch.
Rounding out the cast are the mean mother-daughter duo Velma Von Tussle and Amber Von Tussle (played by Addison Garner and Ryahn Evers, respectively), Motormouth Maybelle (played by Lauren Johnson) who has some pipes on her, Inez (played by Joi D. McCoy) and Corny Collins himself (reprised by Billy Dawson).
The clear audience favorite — especially by the kids in attendance — was Andrew Levitt, aka Nina West. Levitt plays Tracy’s mother Edna Turnblad with humor, finesse and ease. He stole every scene he was in! Fan’s of RuPaul’s Drag Race will recognize Levitt; he competed on the show’s eleventh season and was named Miss Congeniality. It’s fun to watch Edna transform from the dutiful, if saucy, mother and housewife to emboldened woman who not only loves her family, but her body and herself. Everyone in the audience loved Edna’s second act duet “Timeless to Me” with her husband Wilbur, played by Ralph Prentice Daniel (pictured below). Levitt even gave a shoutout to Darcelle XV, Portland’s beloved drag queen, who passed away at age 92 earlier this month.
Another standout? The behind-the-scenes creativity that brings Hairspray to life. Can we take a second to talk about the costumes — and all that hair?! The set and wardrobe design is full of little touches that bring authenticity to the stage. I loved everyone’s sky-high ’do, the A-line dresses with petticoats and the burst of Technicolor hues and patterns.
Whether you personally experienced the swinging ’60s and all the movement encompassed and inspired, or simply appreciate a good beehive updo, Hairspray is a time warp blast.
If you go:
Hairspray runs at the Keller Auditorium from March 28 through April 2.
The performance has a run time of 2 ½ hours, with one intermission.
This musical is recommended for ages 8 and older.
Tickets start at $34.75 and can be delivered via text.
Masks are encouraged inside the theater but not required.
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