The Broadway smash musical adaptation of John Waters' 1988 film, "Hairspray," has settled in for a four-week run at Seattle Musical Theatre. With book by Mark O'Donnell and legendary comedy writer Thomas Meehan and music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, it has all the ingredients to be a toe-tapping, finger-snapping success. Although opening night for SMT was marred heavily with technical issues, I have no doubt that the show will quickly reach its "guaranteed hit" stride, and as much as I would like to ignore the difficulties I (and the packed audience) witnessed, even the most charitable of reviewers couldn't turn a blind eye. From missed lighting cues to set-change snafus, the evening felt more like a first dress rehearsal than an opening. The very start of the show found lead actress Kate Moyer struggling with a microphone that crackled and popped through 90% of the first act. Twice (that I was aware of) they tried to remedy the situation offstage, causing her to be late on her entrances. One of these missed entrances was so noticeable in length (with no one on stage even making an attempt to cover), that you could feel the audience's expectations deflating, and indeed, by the end of the show (even though the technical problems had been largely addressed at intermission), the audience did not rise to its feet as is generally the norm in Seattle...that was the clearest indicator of disappointment. The real tragedy: the evening should have been a triumph for this cast.
Kate Moyer is energetic and appealing as Tracy Turnblad, the starry-eyed teen who dreams of dancing on The Corny Collins Show (a thinly-veiled nod to Dick Clark's American Bandstand) opposite heartthrob Link Larkin. She has a perfect "60s pop" sound which serves her and the material well, particularly on the opening number "Good Morning Baltimore" and her duet with Link Larkin, "Without Love." As the object of Tracy's affections, Kody Bringman is an attractive and sincere Link, offering a fine counterpoint to Moyer, and is Elvis-smooth with his vocals on the number "It Takes Two." As Tracy's work-at-home mom Edna Turnblad, Jay Irwin makes the role his own, though one can't help but think of both Divine (the 1988 movie) and Harvey Fierstein; Irwin has the look of the former (especially in the glittering finale dress, which Divine could easily have worn as Babs Johnson in "Pink Flamingos") and is reminiscent of the latter with a few line deliveries (particularly in the numbers "The Big Dollhouse" and "Timeless To Me," the duet with husband Wilbur, played by Jon Thumin).
Other outstanding performances include Stacie Calkins as rhyme-spoutin' hip-swayin' Motormouth Maybelle (a knock-out on the inspirational "I Know Where I've Been"), Brian Schaeffer as her teen son Seaweed, Camille Collaco as kid-sister Li'l Inez (whose voice guarantees a bright future in Seattle theatre), Mindy Beal as best-friend Penny Pingleton, Colleen Gillon as Penny's high-strung mother Prudy, Jeff Orton as the suave and swingin' Corny Collins, Christine Riipii as venomous TV show producer Velma Von Tussle, and Carly Hodgson as her equally toxic daughter Amber.
Director Vincent Orduna has done a fine job of casting and directing the show and the social message of it rings loud and clear. Josh Zimmerman's music direction is first-rate and Phil Lacey's choreography fills the stage with flash and panache, which is a perfect compliment to costume designer John Allbritton's cornucopia of delicious 60s styles, all in a dazzling array of era-appropriate colors (when's the last time you saw a chartreuse silk dress?). Set design by Scott Shaver, Richard Schaefer and Devin Peterson was cleverly utilitarian but not always functional, as set-change crew struggled with scene panels, rotating platforms and wall signs. Lighting design by Richard Schaefer was good when the cue was executed correctly, but the tardiness of cues was inexcusable at the beginning of scenes, leaving actors to start speaking in the dark, and particularly during musical numbers..."Mama I'm A big Girl Now" was an unfortunate victim of this. As for the sound design, Caleb Dietzel didn't intend for there to be opening night issues, but issues there were. Hopefully, they were able to fix everything for the remainder of opening weekend and for the continuing run of the show. This cast deserves to be seen at their best.