By Kay Kipling
Hairspray is such a fun, light, effervescent musical that it may deceive the viewer into thinking it’s also easy to pull off. With a fairly large cast and a lot of swiftly moving scenes and musical numbers, it’s not, but Venice Theatre’s current production, directed and choreographed by Brad Wages, makes it look that way most of the time.
Wages has been able to cast a strong ensemble as well as his leads, starting, of course, with Alyssa Goudy as Tracy Turnblad, the original John Waters plump heroine whose dreams and courage are equal to her size. Goudy may occasionally sound a bit breathless while singing and dancing up a storm (she’s in almost every scene of the show, it seems), but she’s got tremendous verve and likeability, and we’re firmly on her side from the moment she wakes up to the opening song, Good Morning, Baltimore.
Besides Goudy, though, there are great turns by other VT actors, some veterans, some new. Timothy J. Fitzgerald is right on target as Tracy’s mother, Edna (traditionally played in drag as it is here), and while his/her duet on You’re Timeless to Me with hubby Wilbur (Joseph Giglia) may be too over the top for some, the audience the night I attended Hairspray clearly loved it.
There are lots of other comic treats in this show (with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman), whether it’s meeting The Nicest Kids in Town on the Corny Collins Show or bringing Edna out of her time warp on Welcome to the 60s. And there are more poignant moments as well, as when Syreeta Banks delivers a powerful rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been, in reference to the journey she and others are trying to make toward integration. Despite all the fun and fluff of hairspray, that message of tolerance and acceptance is one that hits home without preachiness.
Young Allison Pickens is pitch-perfect with her looks and performance as Tracy’s sweet but dumb girlfriend, Penny, and Dick Baker is likewise as Tracy’s hearththrob, Link Larkin. David P. Brown is believable as TV host Corny Collins, Nancy Denton and Antoinette Gagliano hissable comic villainesses Velma and Amber Von Tussle, and Jabriel shelton and Princess Jackson make an impression as Seaweed and sister little Inez.
Wages keeps all the action moving along quickly and smoothly, with simple but smart choreography and nary a break in the action. Wigs and costumes (by Stephanie Gift) place us firmly and amusingly in the period. The orchestra, led by conductor Rick Bogner, is well up to the task of keeping the pop/rock/gospel sounds bouncing along here, but there are occasional sound problems that prevent us from distinguishing some of the songs’ clever lyrics. Too bad, but overall this Hairspray scores a hit.
Hairspray continues through Dec. 8; for tickets call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com.