John Szablewski Reviews

Theatre Review: ‘Hairspray’ at The Kavinoky Theatre

The cast of “Hairspray” at The Kavinoky Theatre.

“Hairspray” was the first musical I saved my money to see when it came to Shea’s on the first National Tour. I remember being enthralled by the experience. The music, the story, the fun the actors appeared to be having on stage. I was out of breath for the actors on stage. It was a rush. I hold that experience in high regard, and because “Hairspray” is one of my favorites, I am very protective of it. Walking in, I told my girlfriend that if I didn’t hear a tenor saxophone wail in the opening of “Good Morning Baltimore” I was out. If Edna didn’t make me laugh and ham it up during “Timeless To Me” I was out. If “You Can’t Stop The Beat” didn’t excite me, I was out. After witnessing the Kav’s production of one of my absolute favorite musicals, I can honestly say, that this production rivals the first national tour of the show. Get your tickets now, because they will be hard to come by!

. . .this production rivals the first national tour. . .

“Hairspray,” the 2002 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, tells the story of Tracy Turnblad (Maeghan McDonald) a girl who is a bit larger than a size 4, and who has bigger dreams and more heart than anyone else. Tracy dreams to be on a local afternoon television dance program, The Corny Collins Show, and when it is announced that there are open auditions, Tracy sprints into action. Her mother Edna (Billy Lovern) tells her that she shouldn’t audition because of her size, but that doesn’t stop Tracy for chasing her dream. Tracy and her best friend Penny (Arin Lee Dandes) go to the television station and audition, but they are not welcomed with the open arms they were hoping.

This musical was a hit right from the beginning and rightfully so. The topics of segregation in the 60’s, self esteem, body image, breaking the societal norms, and doing the right thing, all are included in this great adaption of the 1988 film by John Waters. The score is catchy and fun, and the Kavinoky production does a impeccable job bringing the songs to life and making sure that no expense is spared.

“Hairspray” made headlines back in 2002 because the show ends with a very fast tempo, heavily choreographed, high energy song, “You Can’t Stop The Beat” where the entire cast appears on stage in a huge spectacle. This is one thing that I looked for in this show, and was very relieved that Director Carlos A. Jones made sure to keep the energy flowing and made this finale to the show fresh and new. You will jump to your feet when this song concludes. I guarantee it.

Having reviewed shows in Buffalo for the last six seasons, it is common to see the same faces playing roles at the same theaters time and time again. Sometimes it gets a little old seeing the same faces doing everything. This production has a huge talented cast, many of whom are gracing the boards at the Kav for the first time. I hope that we get to see these faces more often in the community because the talent that is possessed in this city is so great! Kudos to Director Jones for taking a chance on new faces. I hope this is the new standard.

Leading the show as Tracy is Maeghan McDonald. She’s new! Her energy is fresh, her voice is marvelous, and she truly captivates the persona of Tracy to a tee. She has heart and attitude, and together the two create a fantastic portrayal. She does not disappoint.

Arin Lee Dandes is perfect for Penny. Her innocence is a trait that goes far with this character. She gets a load of laughs and earns every one.

Billy Lovern plays Edna, sticking with the tradition of a male playing the role of Tracy’s mom. Lovern does a wonderful job playing the larger than life Edna in this production. Together with John Fredo’s Wilbur, the two bring the house down in their performance of “Timeless To Me” in the second act.

Marc Sacco plays tv host, Corny Collins. Sacco is wonderful in this role. His performance of “It’s Hairspray” is very entertaining.

Natalie Slipko and Cassidy Kreuzer play Velma and Amber Von Tussell, respectfully. They have a wonderful chemistry as the evil mother and daughter duo. We love to hate them, and hate to the love them. 

Lorenzo Shawn Parnell plays Motormouth Maybelle, and he is a powerhouse. Having just seen him in “Sister Act” at the Lancaster Opera House, it is mind boggling that he played both Sweaty Eddie and now Motormouth Maybelle. This just shows the range that he possesses. He is a brilliant addition to the cast. His performance of “I Know Where I’ve Been” brings a tear to your eye.

There is so much talent in this show that I could go on for days, but it wouldn’t do the show justice. This is the best show I have seen at The Kavinoky in some time, and I suggest you get down there to see it right away, you don’t want to miss the fun!

Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

“Hairspray” runs until October 6, 2019 and is presented at The Kavinoky Theatre. For more information, click here.