‘Hairspray’ packs powerhouse cast

The ’60s have never looked as fun as they do on the Footlite Musicals stage during “Hairspray.”

Tracy Turnblad (Tara Roberds) is the newest cast member of The Corny Collins Show, a TV program featuring young dancers, but her idea to integrate black dancers into the show has ruffled the feathers of the show’s producer.

Tracy befriends the black cast of dancers (who, at the outset, are relegated to appearing once a month on “Negro Day”) and adopts some of their dance moves, to the chagrin of some of her less liberal counterparts.

The show is upbeat and comical throughout but carries a serious message about equality.

A strong talent pool proved a double-edged sword for this cast; in short, the supporting actors often outshone the leads, though that’s hardly a complaint.

Roberds doesn’t miss a note as Tracy, the self-proclaimed “heavyweight champion” whose own self-love inspires acceptance in others.

Her love interest is Link Larkin, ably played by Nick Heskett.

But the real applause was earned by cast members with significantly smaller roles.

Greenfield resident Elizabeth Orr shines as Corny Collins Show producer Velma Von Tussle.

Velma’s refusal to integrate black dancers to the Corny Collins cast drives the plot, and Orr’s portrayal of the venomous vixen provides the perfect counterbalance to Tracy’s wide-eyed innocence.

Orr’s “Miss Baltimore Crabs” — a song reminiscing about her glory days as a pageant queen — was a high point of Act One, with spot-on vocals and expertly delivered lines that made Velma the kind of villain an audience loves to hate.

Ramon Hutchins is dynamite as the smooth-talking Seaweed, one of the “Negro Day” black dancers intent on proving to Velma and anyone else that he has more to offer than the color of his skin.

Hutchins’ celebration of racial pride in the number, “Run and Tell That” brought the house down — not only with powerhouse vocals but some of the show’s best dance moves.

Tracy’s ditzy best friend, Penny, provides much of the show’s comic relief as she supports Tracy’s newfound success on the show from the sidelines. Behind the gum-popping bimbo, however, is an actor with a big voice.

When Grace Ruddell belts her first note in “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,” it’s clear she’s working with a powerful set of pipes.

Some of the best harmonies in the show are between Ruddell and Hutchins during “Without Love,” the happy-ending moment when love defies all barriers.

Ruddell and Hutchins’ duet is rivaled only by Shavon Wilson and Dennis Jones, who brought chills during “I Know Where I’ve Been,” Wilson’s soulful theme as Motormouth Maybelle, Seaweed’s mother, who supports her son’s push for integration but is realistic about the challenges ahead.

Also worthy of mention are the darling duo portraying Tracy’s parents, Edna and Wilbur Turnblad.

John Phillips is adorable from his first moment on stage as the bumbling but lovable Wilbur, whose chemistry with his stage wife is spot on despite Edna Turnblad being played by a man dressed as a woman.

Graham Brinklow’s performance as Edna, the overweight mother whose daughter is teaching her to love herself at any size, was comical when it needed to be but also heartwarming. He kept Edna believable, teasing out the inherent comedy of being dressed in drag without being so flamboyant that the antics detracted from the show.

Low moments in the show were few, though the demands of the high-energy numbers occasionally proved a bit taxing for the dance ensemble.

Vocal support from the chorus suffered by the show’s end, especially during “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” one of the more intense dance numbers.

With the number of people rumored to have auditioned for the show — more than 170 — it’s no surprise director Camilla Upchurch opted to cast such a large ensemble, but the show could have benefited from fewer dancers crowding the stage.

Numbers performed by the “Nicest Kids in Town” cast of the Corny Collins Show were fun for the audience, despite choreography looking a bit unpolished; special kudos to Drew Bryson as Fender, whose facial expressions made him especially delightful to watch.

It’s also worth noting that aside from learning his part, Bryson also was responsible for the impressive number of wigs worn by his fellow cast mates. No amount of hairspray could stand in for that kind of talent.

Footlite’s Hairspray is delightful from beginning to end, the kind of show that has the lobby buzzing as patrons leave the theater. It’s a testament to the success of community productions put on by those who are passionate about their art. Don’t miss it.

Noelle Steele is the editor of the Daily Reporter. Send comments to nsteele@greenfieldreporter.com.