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Sock Hops, Narcotic Nostalgia and Interracial Kisses: “Hairspray” Rocks the Flagler Playhouse

| January 21, 2011

You can't stop the beat. From left: Kelly Nelson, Adam Mayo, Laniece Wilson, Josh Fagundes, Andre Maybin Jr. and Shelby Newport. Click on the image for larger view (© FlaglerLive)

You can't stop the beat. From left: Kelly Nelson, Adam Mayo, Laniece Wilson, Josh Fagundes, Andre Maybin Jr. and Shelby Newport. Click on the image for larger view (© FlaglerLive)

It isn’t easy to make Baltimore—Baltimore, for god’s sake—sound like the most happening place on earth, at least not since H.L. Mencken let his last sentence stab off his pen there in 1956. Nor is it easy to put the words “desegregation,” “rhythm” and “fun” in the same sentence. But John Waters, occasionally known as the “prince of puke” (think “Pink Flamingoes”) is also the sort of filmmaker who’s as comfortable teaching first graders as he is prisoners, and with a goofiness that makes the mundane, the faddish, the absolutely tacky, absolutely lovable. In his hands, of course the sun can shine in Baltimore.

That was one of the many running jokes in “Hairspray,” Waters’s 1988 movie set in 1962 Baltimore. Another was the anachronism of making a musical about desegregation in 1988, when those hefty matters were supposed to have been taken care of, and framing it in cartoon-size themes of fat versus nerd, teen versus parent, cop versus everyone, adding a vague quiver of transsexualism here and there (it’s John Waters: you can’t avoid it), and finally making everyone want to kiss, makeup and dance like demented refugees from “American Graffiti.”

So the second Kelly Nelson’s Tracy Turnblad begins singing “Good morning Baltimore” (no kidding: I love you Baltimore/ every day’s like an open door/ every night is a fantasy/every sound like a symphony), you’re pretty much hooked, as the house likely will be evening after evening when “Hairspray” opens tonight at the Flagler Playhouse. Especially since the musical, based on the 2002 Broadway play, is by far more comic than dark, more kitschy than sardonic. (That’s the same Kelly Nelson who teaches music at Bunnell Elementary School.)

“The Broadway play is like a Disneyfication of Waters’s original movie,” says John Sbordone, who calls Waters “the Andy Warhol of film. Sbordone is directing the play, as he does most plays at the Playhouse. “He’s always poking fun at our beliefs. I mean, the guy who played Edna originally was a transvestite actor, a brilliant actor, Divine. When they took it to Broadway they just homogenized everything, and then the film that came out of the Broadway play was even more homogenizes. The integration theme is even more homogenized, it’s so buried in the fun of it—this is to integration what ‘Grease’ was to women’s lib. But it’s fun, the music is tuneful and it’s bouncy.” In sum, “a great audience pleaser.” Some of you may want to show up just to catch Nancy Howell’s costumes, which are a subplot of their own.

So here’s the story in a play where the story really is more of a plod on the way to the next musical number: Tracy Turnbald is a bouncy, bubbly, round teen who loves to dance. She becomes a star on the televised “Corny Collins Show,” and draws the fangy fits of the radically thinner Amber Von Tussle (played by Ashley Duenas, who must share a considerable batch of Brigitte Nielsen’s DNA). Tracy’s mother Edna (the wonderfully amplified Josh Fagundes, a fixture at the Playhouse) at first wants to dissuade her daughter from going up against the squares: “Girls like Tracy, people like us, you know what I mean: they don’t put us on TV except to be laughed at,” she says of those pre-“Mike & Molly” days. But her heart is bigger than her rear. She can’t help letting her daughter’s ambitions rip. And go after slightly conflicted and morally ambiguous heartthrob

A touch of divine: Laniece Wilson's Motormouth Maybelle. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

With an odd twist. Tracy is upset that there’s only one “Negro Day” on the TV show. This “no-talent commie” who’s not past flipping a finger or two wants every day to be Negro Day. Off to the integration subplot, which enables the likes of Amber and her even whiter overlords to make caricaturish asses of themselves. So the likes of Motormouth Maybelle (Laniece Wilson, who happens to be engaged to Fagundes when disbelief isn’t suspended) and Seaweed (Andre Maybin Jr.) show them what the beauty of black Baltimore is all about: you only need to hear Wilson’s interpretations of “Big, Blond and Beautiful” and “I Know Where You’ve Been” to understand why Corny Collins’s whiter shades have no chance. Guess who wins in the end.

Waters or no Waters, the integration theme is just plain weird—or would be, and was, when the musical was staged in the north, and should be in Obama America, or in routinely integrated Palm Coast, one of America’s first post-racial cities. But as Sbordone notes, in reference to the recent controversy over the staging of “To Kill a Mockingbird” by a high school troupe, “we had trouble with the word ‘nigger.’ I mean, that’s how silly—I don’t know if we’re behind the times, but I think it still has some relevance. Certainly has some relevance for the kids. It’s a bit of a history lesson for them because outside of what they hear on martin Luther King Day, they’re not privy to the things that we are, we know about and have been involved in all of our lives.” In other words “Hairspray” ought to be dated, but isn’t. Not just with the integration theme, which on this Playhouse stage gives us what must be one of the first live, theatrical interracial kisses in Bunnell (a city with its own rich history of interracial dysfunction), compliments of Seaweed and Shelby Newport’s Penny.

Still, the interracial theme, like the plot, are mere excuses for the parade of showstoppers in a musical that features some 45 actors, singers and dancers—by far the largest cast ever assembled at the Flagler Playhouse. It’s a wonder how Diane Ellertsen’s choreography made them fit on the Playhouse’s snug stage. If you haven’t seen the play or the movie before, it won’t take you long to figure out why the Broadway production cleaned up the 2003 Tony awards (eight, including best musical), why it ran for six years and why the Flagler Playhouse auditions drew almost 100 actors. And for all the smells and sprays of 1962, there’s never a whiff of napalm.

The play’s amateur rights have just been released, making the Playhouse’s production one of the first in Florida. Counting tonight’s, which was sold out, there’ll be with 11 weekend performances through Feb. 12. Bring your own hairspray.

Kelly Nelson and Justin Register. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

“Hairspray”

Book by Mark O’Donnell & Thomas Meehan
Music & Lyrics by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman

Directed by John Sbordone
Music Direction by Curtis Powell
Choreography by Diane Ellertsen
Light Design by Jack Neiberlein
Costumes by Nancy E. Howell
Produced by special arrangement with Music Theatre International

CAST

Tracy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Kelly Nelson

Edna. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Josh Fagundes

Amber. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ashley Duenas

Link. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Justin Register

Velma. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Leslie Van Brink

Corny Collins. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Brett Cunningham

Penny. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Shelby Newport

Seaweed. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Andre Maybin Jr.

Wilbur. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Adam Mayo

Motormouth Maybelle. . . . . . . . . . . . Laniece Wilson

Prudy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Tiffany Rufino

Little Inez. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . .Gabie Jackman

Mr. Pinky. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Curt Ceballos

Harriman Spritzer & Others. . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . Bruce Popielarski

Gym Teacher & Others . . . . . . . . . .Deshawn Mateo

Matron. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Valerie Betts

Stooie. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ryan Ragsdale

Cindy Watkins. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Tabitha Morales

Gilbert. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Tyrique Harper

Lorraine. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Teniyah Christian

Duane. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rodney Lallemand

Beatnik Chick . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Karey Jaszewski

Guard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Curt Ceballos

Hooker. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Angie Andress

Fan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Valerie Betts

Photographer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Shanica Harper

The Dynamites. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Nella Dixon, Jackie Nelson Kimberly Thorze

Motormouth Dancers: Alena Alfonso, Teniyah Christian, Tyrique Harper, Rodney Lallemand, Tori Miller, Tabitha Morales and Ryan Ragsdale

Council Members:

Brad . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Frank Anello

Tammy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Marena Lucero

Fender . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ryan Mateo

Lou Ann . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Agata Sokolska

IQ.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Bradley Parks

Brenda. . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Ashley Savage

Sketch . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Troy Wingerter

Shelley . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Sydney Rogers

Ensemble: Angela Andress, Catlin Burns Leana Gardella, Karey Jaszewski, Sara Komanowski, Tricia Lynamand Ashley Savage

Stage Manager: Evelyn Lynam
Assistant Manager: Jim Lynam
Assistant Choreographer: Lynne DiCianni
Score Preparation: Curt Ceballos
Wig Master: DeShawn Mateo

Set Builders: Rob Long (Head),
Jim Lynam, Chris Lynam, Samantha Long
Light Crew: Jack Neiberlien (Head), Foster Langford, William Johnson
Costume Crew: Nancy Howell (Head), Mary Anne Lopez, DeShawn Mateo, Valerie Betts, Laniece Wilson, Gabrielle Eriser

Light Board Operators: Chris Lynam
Sound Board Operator: Remi Sammy
Follow Spot Operators Jack Wilbern, Jim Ellertsen
Make-up Crew: DeShawn Mateo, Teri Paxia
Dressers: Maureen Jefferies
Set Change Crew: Jim & Evelyn Lynam, cast

Box Office: Sandy Siepeitoski (Head), Estelle Silva
Head Usher: Patti Rogers
Photography: Jane Sbordone

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1 Response for “Sock Hops, Narcotic Nostalgia and Interracial Kisses: “Hairspray” Rocks the Flagler Playhouse”

  1. CindyD says:

    The show was amazing! A large group of us attended Saturday afternoon and would highly recommend it.

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