Despite the star-studded cast, I wasn’t a huge fan of the 2007 film version of Hairspray starring John Travolta. Maybe I was too young to really appreciate the themes, but I didn’t understand the fan-fair.
My experience watching it live at Village Theatre, however, was vastly different. The Tony and Drama Desk Awarding-winning musical is set in the 1960s with curvaceous Tracy Turnblad (Callie Williams), a Baltimore teen with a big personality and even bigger hair, taking center stage as the lovestruck protagonist aiming to dance her way onto The Corny Collins Show and win the affection of Corny Collins star Link Larkin (Ethan Carpenter).
Though the audience was separated from the characters by several decades, many of the issues in the storyline are still present in today’s media — namely inclusivity of diverse body types and ethnicities. The trim, blonde, former beauty queen show producer, Velma Von Tussle (Beth DeVries), is sharply resistant to racially integrating the Corny Collins show or welcoming Turnblad as a cast member because of her shapely figure. But Turnblad is unphased, and with the help of her curly-pigtailed best friend, Penny Pingleton, she makes some major waves.
Have we made progress in onscreen inclusion? Yes, but the musical was also a reminder of our lack of progress.
Ok, so now that you feel totally bummed out, just know that Village Theatre’s Hairspray is a firecracker performance of dance numbers and songs belted out by a handful of the most talented local actors. Seriously, it is mind-blowing. And if you loved John Travolta’s rendition of Turnblad’s mother, Edna, you’ll be thrilled to see a man, Nick Desantis, playing the role. He — or should we say she — is a vivacious addition to comic relief.
I’d be remiss to conclude this review without mentioning that this is Artistic Director Steve Tomkin’s last show before retiring. After 32 years with Village Theatre and having directed 64 mainstage productions, he will take his final bow on July 1. It’s clear his artistic magic has left an indelible mark on those who have worked with him, and it’s an audience experience you’ll want to be part of.
Just go! Go for the timeless tunes, the costumes (Oh! The costumes!), and for a night of entertainment that is unmatched. You’ll be all twisted up by the incredible musical talent and reeling to fight the good fight.
Watch it at the Issaquah theatre until July 1.