Saturday, June 16, 2012

‘Hairspray’ shines the spotlight on young performers as well as segregation in the ’60s

Photo by John Daggett
 By Cheryl Thornburg

 A talented cast, backed by an equally talented orchestra, brings back 1962 Baltimore with its upbeat music and its downside – segregation  – in Steel River Playhouse’s current production, “Hairspray.”
The show focuses on the “reality” TV of the time – dance shows featuring local teens  – and Tracy Turnblad, a plump young lady whose got the moves and auditions to be on The
Corny Collins Show, an all-white dance show, except on Negro Day, when there’s an all-black show. Despite objections from the show’s shrewish producer, Tracy joins the cast and sets the stage for a social revolution.
To make this show work, you need a great “Tracy” and Nicole Bright is perfect for the role of the bubbly, big-hearted teen. Her likeability factor is through the roof and she can sing and dance. Noteworthy are her renditions of  “I Can Hear the Bells” and “Mama, I’m A Big Girl Now.”
Matt Kiesling meets her measure for measure as the show’s suave heartthrob, Link Larkin.  He exudes charm and confidence, but also shows Link’s sensitive side. He shows off his vocal skills in his duet with Tracy, “Without Love.”
The show’s star, Corny Collins, is played by Greg Kasander with just enough over-the-top enthusiasm and a perpetual smile to evoke memories of other dance show emcees.
Donna Dougherty is the villainess you love to hate as Velma Von Tussel, the pushy, self-centered producer of the show and mother of the show’s equally self-centered teen heroine, Amber, played by Julia Tyminski. The pair has some hilarious scenes and seem to relish their roles.
Showing off some stellar dance moves is Willie Garner as Seaweed J. Stubbs, who teaches them to Tracy when the two meet in detention. His younger sister,  Li’l Inez, is played with flair by Cierra Fekelman. She has a smile and spark that makes her stand-out on stage.
One of the show-stopping standouts though, is Britney Hines as Motormouth Maybelle, who hosts a radio show. She is a force to be reckoned with.  Her power and range are memorable in “Big, Blond, and Beautiful,” and “I Know Where I’ve Been.”
Bob Goretski is outrageously funny and fun to watch as Tracy’s mother, Edna Turnblad, particularly in scenes with her husband, Wilbur, played by Bill Kiesling.
Jordan Popky turns in a performance as Penny Pingleton, Tracy’s best friend, that channels everyone’s best friend.
Another highlight of the show is the trio, The Dynamites Alexa Morefield, Gabrielle Hines and Jordan Shoemaker, who deliver “Welcome to The 60s” in slinky red gowns.
Jennifer Dinan is a triple threat nailing her three roles as Penny’s mother Prudy Pingleton; the gym teacher and the jail matron.
The cast also includes Breyanna Clark, Casey Cloonan, DeQuan Washington, Drew Carr, Eric Thompson, Holly Hoover, Madison Devlin, Madison Dietrich, Mardije Pearson, Matt Corson, Mike Styer, Nancy Dolan, Rikki Etter, TJ Galamba, and AJ Giruzzi.
Zuhairah McGill, who directed the poignant and unforgettable “Ain’t Misbehavin’”    delivers another great theater production that’s entertaining as well as educational to the Steel River Playhouse.
The show’s 60s setting is unfamiliar to most of the cast, crew and audience.  Only about one quarter of Sunday’s audience got the jokes about Eddie Fisher, green stamps and the Gabor sisters. The story educates younger audience members about segregation as it was practiced 50 years ago and how things began to change.
The title, “Hairspray,” which refers to the mile-high hairstyles of the era, doesn’t reflect that aspect of the show.  It is much more than a fluffy romp through  60’s styke music and its worth the trip to downtown Pottstown.
The show runs Thursdays through Sundays through June 24 at the Steel River Playhouse (formerly Tri-County Performing Arts Center - Tri-PAC),  245 E. High Street in Pottstown. Tickets are $13 to $23, with discounts for groups of 10 or more. Visit to buy tickets online or call the box office at 610-970-1199. 


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