Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - October 28, 2011

Big hair, Baltimore and bounce

Tri-Valley Rep's 'Hairspray' brings audience to its feet.

by Glenn Wohltmann

Here's a one-sentence review of Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre's "Hairspray," now playing at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore: Go see this show.

The play is a coming-of-age musical (in more ways than one) set in 1962 Baltimore. It's funny and poignant, with songs that fit the times, when teen idols were competing with girl groups like the Shirelles, when seatbelts were an option and cell phones were science fiction.

It's the story of Tracy Turnblatt, a plus-sized teen who goes from getting detention to getting attention as the rising star of the Baltimore version of American Bandstand, the Corny Collins Dance show -- sponsored by hairspray company Ultra Clutch.

After defying the odds, getting on the show, falling for the male singer and becoming a Baltimore celebrity, Turnblatt loses it all and winds up getting arrested after trying to integrate the act (remember, this is 1962, when African Americans were "Negroes" or Colored People"). Along the way, there's the usual girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy, girl-gets-boy-back subplot. And that's all in the first act.

Melissa Modifer as Turnblatt and supporting actor Isaiah Boyd as Seaweed both excel in their roles, as do Morgan Frazer as Penny Pingleton, Turnblatt's best friend with two left feet, and Robert Lopez as Link Larkin, the Corny Collins Show teen idol wannabe (and the boy in the boy-meets-girl subplot).

Peter DelFiorentino (continuing a Hairspray gender-bending tradition that started with Divine in the original 1988 John Waters film) is a scene stealer as Tracy's mom, Edna Turnblatt, especially when teamed with Jeff Seaberg as Tracy's dad, Wilbur Turnblatt, for the number "(You're) Timeless To Me."

As a musical, "Hairspray" manages to keep the kitsch that's a Waters trademark; and the music, with songs like "Miss Baltimore Crabs" and "Cooties," fits Waters' quirky sense of humor.

Modifer and Boyd do a great job in the detention scene where Tracy learns the dance that lands her on the show, and "The Big Dollhouse" scene that opens the second act is another highlight of the show.

Throw in things like a visit to the black side of Baltimore, an evil mother-and-daughter combination -- Suzie Shepard as Velma von Tussle and Morgan Breedveld as Amber von Tussle, respectively -- dance numbers from the Corny Collins show, a jailbreak and a big finale, and "Hairspray" has everything that one could want in musical.

The Broadway show was nominated for 13 Tony awards and won eight, including Best Musical. The local production, put on by the Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre, has almost as much to offer. It is rated PG-13.

"Hairspray" runs through Nov. 6; for more information, call 462-2121 or visit www.trivalleyrep.org.

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