Heavyweight “Hairspray” a Brilliant Homage to Dick Clark

It’s hard to watch “the nicest kids in town” without reflecting on the iconic “American Bandstand’s” place in the nation’s history.

And the death of Dick Clark just days before Drury Lane’s opening of the musical, “Hairspray,” makes it darn near impossible.

That’s mostly a good thing.

With introspection evident in the opening night crowd, Drury’s always-professional presentation showcased the brilliance, if not genius, of this musical theater heavyweight (pun intended). It’s hard to weave positive, funny, surprising and witty into an ear-catching score and story with undoubted social relevance. “Hairspray” does.

The story of plus-sized teen Tracy Turnblad fighting for social justice in 1962 Baltimore is based on the 1988 John Waters cult film. The show took home the 2003 Tony for Best Musical, then spawned the 2007 blockbuster film starring John Travolta in drag as Tracy’s hermit mother Edna. A full synopsis and history is found here.

There’s a great deal to like about Drury’s presentation. Veteran director/choreographer Tammy Mader paces the cast perfectly through the Mark O’Donnell and Marc Shaiman book, Shaiman’s fast-paced music and Scott Wittman’s terrific lyrics. In one observer’s opinion it’s truly skilled dance that separates musical-theatre pros from amateurs; this is a cast of pros, and Mader’s choreography shows them off well.

Kudos to the boxy-yet-useful set design of Marcus Stephens that illustrates this animation of Baltimore life on multiple levels. It’s necessarily vibrant and functional.

Highlight performances are given by the rubbery Jon-Michael Reese as Seaweed, 12-year-old Joshlyn Lomax as Little Inez, Rod Thomas as the Clark-inspired Corny Collins and Tim Kazurinsky and Michael Aaron Lindner as Wilbur and Edna Turnblad. On opening night, Rebecca Pink as Tracy’s pal Penny Pingleton stole the show.

However, with the exceptions of Vasquez and Lomax, there seemed a need to give the rest of this cast permission to relax, cut loose and reach for the highest notes. Reference the great song, “Without Love,” when seemingly only Vasquez ventured into the highest register. Specifically, Felicia Fields as Motormouth Maybelle and Lillian Castillo as Tracy, while quite good, have their most energetic days in these roles ahead of them.

That said, this is a terrific show and extremely talented cast—every bit the high quality Drury’s patrons have come to expect. Without doubt, the group will elevate their collective energy level for the run through mid-June.

Perhaps on opening night they had Dick Clark on their minds.

Reviewer’s addendum: The sought-after “Hairspray” high energy level was found two days later at Western Michigan University. There, musical-theatre students Demitra Zano (Lake Zurich) as Tracy, Kellie Goddard (Deerfield) as Motormouth Maybelle and Kevin J. Watson II (Chicago) rocked Kalamazoo with individual performances comparable to the professionals.

“Hairspray” runs through June 17 at the Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, less than a 1-hour drive from all North Shore suburbs. Parking is complimentary. Information and tickets ($35-$46 with additional dinner packages and senior and student discounts for some shows) are available online at www.drurylaneoakbrook.com or by phone (630) 530-0111.