Friday, November 19, 2021

“Hairspray Returns to the Big Stage at the Civic and Knocks the Audience Off Its Feet

 “Hairspray”, Broadway’s Great Big Fat Gorgeous Hit (Clive Barnes) is back for yet another go around at the Civic Theatre through November 21st. Winner of eight 2003 Tony Awards including Best Musical and directed by our own Jack O’Brien of Old Globe fame, the Broadway cast starred Marissa Jaret Winokur as Tracy Turnbald and Harvey Fierstein (the King or Queen of drag and the quintessential Edna Turnbald) as her mother, Edna. Both won Tony’s for their respective roles.

Niki Metcalf as Tracy

“Hairspray”, based on the New Line Cinema film written and directed by John Walters who was also the creative consultant for the musical, with Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan who wrote the book, original score by Academy Award nominated Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, takes place in Baltimore, 1962 where things ‘they were a changin’. 

Welcome to the 60’s sung by the Dynamites Caira Asante, Mea Wilkerson, and Renee Reid. And as an afterthought this is what was happening in the ‘60’s. 

Words like Afro, Beehive, Extensions, Perm, Pig Tails, Pompadour, Skunking and Teasing were made popular. The Civil Rights Act, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, JFK, Bay of Pigs, Peace Core, Cuban Missile Crisis and the death of Marilyn Monroe were a few items that made history in the early 60’s. That we were in for some trying times would be an understatement for years to come.

For Baby Boomers I and younger who may not remember the ‘60’s here are a few dances that thrived then: ‘Stricken Chicken’; ‘The Madison’; The Locomotion’; ‘The Handjive’; ‘The Bug’; ‘The Pony’; ‘The Mashed Potato’ and ‘The Twist’. Lord knows what the dances are called now and that would be dating me past the Polka, the Tango, Cha Cha and the Waltz. 

With a sustained energy by the entire cast compared only to the EveryReady Battery, O’Brien dusted this new touring show (first stop here) off with some updated language and a few political and local references as the production moved along like clockwork.

Overall though, the cast is one of the best balanced I’ve seen with the likes of  Niki Metcalf as Tracy Turnblad the overweight girl with the two tone bouffant, teased to hilt who gets the hunk Will Savarese as Link Larkin the wannabe Elvis look alike), or that her best friend, Penny (Emery Hendreson) supports her to the hilts: “My mother’s going to kill me for going to jail without her permission”.)

Tonisha Harris, Niki Metcalf and Andrew Levitt

 Then as now written into the show, Tracy’s one goal after being able to dance on the famous Corny (Billy Dawson) Collins Show with its white dancers and white producer Velma (Addisonj Gardner and her conceited daughter Amber (Kaelee Albritton) is to integrate the show with the matter of her being overweight right in front of us to judge or not how capable plus sized folks can perform and compete with anyone. 

Hats off to Niki for the dynamism she brings to the show along with her fellow actor Brandon G. Stalling as Seaweed J. Stubbs andother exceptional dancer and ultimately Penny’s boyfriend.


The underlying theme of integration was a biggie then but since the  Black Lives Matter  movement, the energy in the theatre on opening night proved to be a winning point and especially when her newly found friend Mototmouth Belle (bring the house down Toneisha Harris, “I Know Where I’ve Been”) will eventually host the Collins show once a month on ‘Negro Day’. 

Then there is the matter of Tracy’s parents. Her mother Edna (drag queen star Andrew Levitt aka Nina West) is one of the most beautiful and loving Edna I’ve seen as she tries to protect her daughter from getting hurt, while her dreams of becoming a famous designer are coming to fruition.

Her husband Wilber (Christopher Swan) is just the right person to fit the bill in their loving and caring relationship. Their big production number “Timeless To Me” is worth the whole show. It’s fun, loving, caring and just sweet. It brought tears to my eyes. It sums up the feeling of the show.

Some credits are due: Scenic design by David Rockwell, Sound design by Shannon Slaton, Wigs and Hair design by Paul Huntley and Richard Mawbey, Video designs by Patrick W. Lord and  Conductor Patrick Hoagland was in the pit and life was beautiful for 2 plus hours.

The New York Times said about the show: “If life were everything it should be, it would be more like Hairspray.”

Photo by: Chris Bennion and Jeremy Daniel

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday. 8 p.m. Friday. 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., San Diego.

Tickets: $35 to $120


COVID protocol: Proof of full vaccination required or negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of showtime or rapid antigen test performed by a medical professional within 12 hours of showtime. Masks required indoors.

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