“Hairspray” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ November 22, 2010


Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

The entertaining and delightful “Hairspray” explodes all over the Phoenix Theatre stage in a dazzling Michael Barnard staging. Barnard’s exhilarating production finds new joys in the 2002 musical that pays affectionate homage to the 1960s. The show mixes thoughtful political comment into its light-hearted look at this period of great change in American society.

Interwoven into the huge production numbers there’s pithy comments about outcast teenagers and others dealing with isolation, about being overweight, but most profoundly, “Hairspray” illustrates segregation’s evils and the country’s need to embrace racial differences. A lot is crammed into the upbeat musical and Barnard’s alive, vibrant and stunningly performed version doesn’t defuse these significant societal observations.

The story focuses on Tracy Turnblad, her hefty mother, Edna, and Tracy’s desire to fit into her teen crowd that laughs at her being overweight. Tracy’s quite a dancer and uses her rhythmic energy to force herself onto a popular Baltimore teen television dance extravaganza, the “Corny Collins Show.”  She uses the show to push her equality agenda on the bigoted program creator. By the end, Tracy’s ideas are firmly entrenched through the wonderful production numbers that mock ‘60s conventions. The music captures the era’s style using striking beat-driven explosions of melodic joy.

There’s not a misstep in Barnard’s huge production. His insightful casting uses familiar local actors in new ways. His dance numbers are loaded with intricate steps performed with amazing energy and perfection.

Lillian Castillo sparkles as Tracy. She bounds about with zesty joy, dances with bouncy spark, and sings with lusty zeal. Her subtle acting brings out Tracy’s nuances and the terrible way she has been treated. The affectionate bond Castillo maintains with D. Scott Withers’ lusty Edna is sincere and tender. Withers, in a hugely padded body suit and wearing a succession of garishly outlandish gowns, has a field day with Edna. He is graceful but avoids campy excesses in the drag role. Dion Johnson’s heartfelt Wilbur, Edna’s loving husband and Tracy’s adoring Dad, is a beautiful contrast to the two women. Toby Yatso rocks joyously as teen idol Corny. Chase Todd is the perfect Link, the show’s teen icon and Tracy’s love. De Angelus Grisby shines as a record store owner who belts “Big, Blonde & Beautiful” with soulful spirit. Lisa Fogel makes several small roles stand out with her comedic skills. Swiftly shifting sets keep the show’s pacing brisk and Alan Ruch’s great band adds new sounds to the rich score.

“Hairspray” again establishes Phoenix Theatre as the top local troupe to mount huge Broadway musicals. “Hairspray” continues through December 12. For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or go online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A