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Posted June 13, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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'Hairspray' offers big fun

Kelly Kantner is Tracy Turnblad
Kelly Kantner is Tracy Turnblad, the central character in "Hairspray," the season's opening musical at the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre. Courtesy photo


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By John Horan Jr. -- jhoran@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- "Hairspray," that musical celebration of plumpness, gets the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre's season off to a rollicking start.

The zany show brims with mirth, kinetic dancing and a tuneful score, all executed exquisitely by the cast, directed by Harold Herman.

Never mind that the characters are mostly cartoonish, brandishing a few outsized traits and tics and little emotional depth, their foibles are captivating and never tiresome.

"Hairspray" is a musical comedy trifecta, combining the nonstop hilarity of "The Producers," the teenage angst and machinations of "Grease" and the clear-eyed, even cynical, outlook of "Chicago."

The show reflects the campy, slyly subversive mind-set of John Waters, the Baltimore native whose 1988 film is the basis for the musical, which ran on Broadway for nearly seven years and spawned a film version in 2007.

The musical's creators -- Mark O'Donnell, Thomas Meehan, Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman -- supply clever dialog, witty lyrics and music that evokes the early '60s.

The story, for the uninitiated, centers on the "pleasantly plump" Tracy Turnblad, who is determined to gain a spot as a dancer on her favorite after-school TV dance show. Despite the jibes of the svelte and other obstacles, she succeeds and even strikes a blow for racial equality by integrating the show and also empowers her plus-plus-sized mother, who hasn't left her apartment in years.

In Kelly Kantner the production boasts a winning Tracy, exuding a sweet personality and surefire singing and dancing talents. It's small wonder she instantly charms the TV show's resident hunk, the magnetic Jacob Schneider, and its liberal-minded host, played by Jack Donahue.

As Tracy's mom, Edna, Rick Wesley is indelible. Forgoing a fat suit like John Travolta wore in the movie, Wesley favors what Victoria's Secret could market as its "Big Bertha" bra. The horizontal Himalayas contrast with his normal-sized legs protruding from his frumpy housecoat.

In spite of Edna's spectacular physicality, most vividly manifested when she gets a makeover at Mr. Pinky's dress shop, Wesley chooses to play her as a demure homebody, devoted to her daughter and husband, the always flamboyant Jack Rowles.

Robin Higginbotham is the scheming TV producer determined to make a star out of her beautiful, bratty daughter, played by Marilee Green.

The lithe David Bazemore shines as the show's hip "Negro Day" dancer who bonds with Tracy's stalwart friend, played by Beth Cheryl Tarnow.

Faith Boles is effective as "Motormouth Maybelle" and among the cast's numerous vivid characterizations Nicky O'Neal is notable as the butch gym teacher.

The ensemble revels in Robin Hart Schroth's driving choreography. Heather Reid's myriad costumes are a marvel. William Pierson's supplies the clever set and Wm. McConnell Bozman the effective lighting.

* "Hairspray"

* By John Waters

* Directed by Harold Herman

* Continuing at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre through June 21. Box office phone number: 665-4569

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