Theater Review: HAIRSPRAY (Bay Area Musicals)

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by Harvey Perr on July 10, 2019

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


There are some shows that are beyond criticism or, rather, shows that render criticism totally unnecessary, and the Bay Area Musicals production of Hairspray is one of those shows. Everyone involved has set out to provide a lively showcase for local talent and for the friends and families of same, and, from the shrieks of pleasure that punctuated every moment of its three hours, it is clear that they have been successful in their endeavor. Only a curmudgeon would fail to surrender when confronted by what looks like such mutual joy between performers and their audience.

If one insists upon hearing what one such curmudgeon has to say, however, then I feel bound to say that what I saw was somewhat different from what most of the audience was experiencing. I should say, at the outset, that even at the height of its initial popular success, I felt this musical version of John Waters’ sweetly and affectionately bold movie about race and rock and roll was not an improvement over the Waters film. But that is neither here nor there.

On the stage of the rather dank Victoria Theater paraded an over-amplified one-note affair in which every dance seemed like another and in which its tone was unvaried and unchanging and finally numbing. The talent on display was often quite delightful, but badly managed. One performer, Dave J. Abrams, literally leaped onto the stage, a little too late in the first act, and gave the kind of commanding performance that could have taken the show to another level, but despite the eager, almost desperate efforts of the rest of the cast, the show never seemed more than hectic.

What it possessed in energy, unfortunately, it lacked in heart and feeling, which is precisely what often separates the professional from the amateur. But there were glints of something more in the work of Cassie Grilley, Sarah Sloan, Melissa  Momboisse and an irrepressibly impish Kennedy Williams, all with futures in the theater, and one wishes them and the rest of the cast well. If only they were permitted to project more of their own personalities instead of being pushed into cartoonish cookie-cutter replications of what were already stereotypes.

And, knowing full well this is a minority report, maybe future directors of Hairspray might consider having a woman play Edna Turnblad, the mother of the play’s heroine, Tracy. Created by the divine Divine, a Waters regular, it was a stroke of genius and, when another outsize personality, Harvey Fierstein, took the role in the musical, it also worked beautifully, but it has now become de rigeur to have a man (or preferably an accomplished drag performer) play the part, but it will never be enough to just be a big man who looks funny in women’s clothes. Just something to be considered. Or, even better, having the show played by an entirely gender fluid cast. In the meantime, don’t listen to me. Everybody else was having a swell time.

photos courtesy of BAM

Bay Area Musicals
Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St in San Francisco
Thurs at 7:30; Fri & Sat at 8; Sat & Sun at 2
ends on August 11, 2019
for tickets, visit BAM

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