Life is about change.
Live Arts, a true local/regional theater, has reinvented itself at least twice since it began in 1990. It’s doing that again, it appears, with a new emphasis on involving community.
Sometimes that means that a show isn’t perfect, but in the case of “Hairspray,” which opened there last Friday, it really doesn’t matter. The company’s enthusiasm and sheer love of the theater, combined with some very talented people, make this a show worth seeing.
And the show itself is about change. The musical is based on John Waters’1988 film of the same name. Set in mostlysegregated Baltimore in 1962, it’s the story of a plus-sized teen whose dream is to dance on the local equivalent of “American Bandstand.”
The film became a Broadway musical in 2002, winning eight Tony awards.
In the ’60s it wasn’t kids who objected to integration. Kids are alike in so many more ways than they are different, and “Hairspray” is a joy-filled production that makes that case, with some terrific rhythm and blues-style numbers.
Live Arts’ production has been gleefully and skillfully directed by Lydia Horan, who has pulled together a diverse, enthusiastic and talented cast of relatively new and some more experienced performers.
Christina Ramsey is charming and funny as Tracy Turnblad, the girl who won’t let the world say no, pursuing her dream with joy and openness.
Peter DeMartino nearly steals the show as Tracy’s mother, Edna, with great dimples, equally good singing and dancing, and a very real sense of the character. You almost want Edna to adopt you before the show is over. Gare Galbraith is a great match for DeMartino, and also very funny.
Basil Ward is outstanding as Seaweed Stubbs, the guy who shows Tracy how to make her dreams come true by teaching her how to really dance. His character is true, his song and dance outstanding.
Natalie Fehlner also shines as Tracy’s friend Penny, a nerdy kind of girl who learns her own lessons. Fehlner is believable every second, and that’s not easy when characters are created with such tongue in cheek broad strokes.
The same can be said for Keith Wilson as Tracy’s dream guy — Link Larkin, the best dancer on the TV show, with an itch to be like Elvis. Katherine Gadzinski is very funny as mean girl Amber, with Jane Scatena deliciously evil as her mom.
Cathy Ames also is great fun as Motormouth Maybelle, a DJ with a blonde beehive who speaks in rhymes. Her singing isn’t as good as her acting, but it doesn’t matter. Ida Yonas is a standout as Little Inez, the girl with attitude.
The whole cast does a fine job, and the ensemble numbers are terrific, with the cast looking very ’60s in costumes by Mary Cassel and Casey Jones and (lots of) hair by Daphne Latham. Ben Jamieson’s vocal direction helps keep the production numbers together, along with choreography by Galen Greenlaw, Heather Powell and Ricardo Porter.
The show isn’t perfect, but it’s a difficult show well done by a dedicated company, and a good way to brighten an evening. The sheer enthusiasm and joy are contagious.
Maybe because Friday was opening night, it was sometimes hard to hear some of the dialogue and songs, and the music seemed distant, out of balance with the singing. But those are things that can resolve themselves with more performances.
Be aware that although this is a Downstage production, tickets are for open seating — so get there early enough to grab a good seat.