Every so often a musical comes along that makes you feel thoroughly joyful and inspires you to stand up for the things you believe in. "Hairspray" is that musical.
"Hairspray" is set in Baltimore in 1962. Tracy Turnblad, a stout and bubbly 16-year-old, wants nothing more than to win a dancing position on "The Corny Collins' Show" alongside her teenage crush Link Larkin.
Tracy is met with many trials when auditioning for the show, such as the haughty and racist owner of the station, Velma Von Tussle, and her beautiful and equally haughty and racist teenage daughter, Amber.
As Tracy is met with these trials she sees that she is not the only one to suffer and takes a stance against segregation that is keeping the African-American teens from regularly dancing on the show.
After gaining a new outlook on how she might use her position on "The Corny Collins' Show," she sets out to end segregation with the help of her parents, her best friend Penny and her African-American friends.
The score in and of itself is something not to be missed. The music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman are bouncy, full of life and most definitely something that will leave an impression on your memory and have you singing the score while leaving the theater.
It must be acknowledged the orchestra does a magnificent job creating the liveliness and joyfulness of "Hairspray's" score.
Katrina Rose Dideriksen plays Tracy with a certain zeal and innocence that is very infectious. Her portrayal is full of the natural feistiness and zaniness that accompanies the teenage years. But presiding over all of Dideriksen's portrayal is vulnerability - a trait that makes her tender when fighting to end segregation and compelling when we see her personal feelings about the setbacks she faces.
Paul Vogt, who plays Tracy's mother Edna, delivers a comedic and yet emotionally gripping interpretation of Edna. Vogt's comedic timing comes in handy when Edna needs to make the quick, matter-of fact statements of a hard-working mother and housewife. But Vogt's ability to switch to a serious demeanor when Edna talks about how she's ashamed to leave her house due to her obesity has the power to pierce straight to the heart.
Michael Kadin Craig's Link Larkin is naturally charming and cute and possesses a strong singing voice.
Rashad Naylor does formidable work as Seaweed J. Stubbs. Naylor gives his Seaweed a natural attitude and power that comes not only from his strong singing voice but also his amazing dancing skills.
One of the most subtly winning performances is given by Jim J. Bullock as Tracy's father Wilbur.
Bullock's Wilbur is gentle, loving and encouraging and made all the more adorable with his messy hair and taped-up glasses.
Another great performance is offered by Niki Scalera who plays Tracy's nerdy and encouraging friend, Penny Pingleton. Scalera is extremely funny especially when conveying the moments when Penny completely lets loose her romantic emotions for Seaweed and also when delivering Penny's absent-minded innocent remarks.
Luba Mason is very persuasive as Velma Von Tussle, as is Ashley Spencer as Amber Von Tussle.
Both women play nicely off each other and also bring attention-grabbing characteristics to their separate roles.
Such examples are Mason's gliding walk and unfaltering coldness and Spencer's snooty, self-centered, yet somehow innocent take on Amber.
Kecia Lewis-Evans brings a very soulful and powerful life to her Motormouth Maybelle. Her rendition of "I Know Where I've Been" truly is an overwhelmingly powerful moment, chill-inducing and thought-provoking all throughout.
Drew Lachey, a former member of the boy band 98 Degrees, is put in an underused role as Corny Collins. For the little time he is onstage however, he exudes great energy and stage presence.
Everyone in this production seems to be enjoying themselves onstage.
One particular instance where an actor's complete and unbridled enjoyment was shown was during Edna and Wilbur's love song "(You're) Timeless to Me." There is a point in this song in which the actor playing Edna is allowed to ad-lib a few lines to Wilbur. Vogt decided that when Bullock would deliver his lyric "You'll always be toujours, mon amour. You're timeless to me." that he would remark what an authentic "Romanian" accent Wilbur had.
Edna then demanded that Wilbur say random words in that accent such as "corn-on-the-cob."
The list of random words got so ridiculous that Bullock would have to stop and simply double over in laughter.
At one point he laughed so intensely that Vogt had to stop him and say "Let's try and start singing again, all right?"
The choreography is the only major aspect that leaves something to be desired. "Hairspray" is a show of great energy and the way the choreography is presented in this production does not allow the energy of either the actors or the score itself to be fully realized.
"Hairspray" is for anyone who wants to sit back and have a light-hearted and feel-good theater experience, but it's also open to challenge anyone about what they believe in and are willing to fight for.
"Hairspray" is currently playing at the Benedum Center and ends its run on Sunday.
(Reed recently graduated from the Franciscan University of Steubenville as an English major with a drama concentration.)