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Hairspray presented by Up and Coming Theatre

According to the World English Dictionary the definition of diversity is “the state or quality of being different or varied”. One of the reasons I love the story of Hairspray is because of all the diversity that it embraces. Yes, there is the obvious racial diversity, but it even goes beyond that to celebrate the more mundane differences such as weight, height, talent, personality, and class. It’s an underdog story in which we love to see the “better” characters get their comeuppance. If you haven’t seen the movies or been to a stage version yet, first go here for a full synopsis, then go here to buy your ticket for Up and Coming Theatre’s (UAC) current production. Seriously, this was easily one of the top 3 performances I have seen since beginning this blog back in January. Outstanding cast, outstanding direction, outstanding choreography…the list goes on and on. I won’t be able to mention every wonderful thing that happened, so just buy your ticket already and get up to Palatine to see this. You won’t be sorry.

Friday afternoon I received an email asking if I could review Hairspray this weekend and quite literally Friday evening was the only day even remotely possible for me to go. However, my husband already had plans for the evening so the children were going to have to come with me. I thought they’d be ecstatic at that, they love the movie, but instead my 9-year-old son spent the entire drive to Palatine complaining. Once we got to the theater he sat nicely in his seat, responded politely to questions from the woman sitting on the other side of him, but was more or less sulking about being there. By the time the applause started for Big, Blonde and Beautiful he was out of his seat, cheering, and saying to me, “MOM!! This is the best show ever!!!!” If that’s not a testimonial to the quality of this production, I don’t know what is.

You can’t have a successful rendition of Hairspray without a kick-ass Tracy Turnblad, and boy, does UAC have one in Linda Andrews. The opening song, Good Morning Baltimore, showed her vocal prowess and set the standard for the rest of the evening. Andrews can sing, she can dance, she has the right characterizations, and she was completely invested in her portrayal of Tracy. It’s not an easy role to take on! Every chubby girl in the musical theater world wants her shot at Tracy and the competition is fierce. We chubby girls don’t get many lead roles like this one. I auditioned for the West End production of Hairspray and the casting call was as specific as they come: 5’4″ or shorter, overweight, excellent dance skills, must be able to play age 16 – 24. The casting agents literally walked into the waiting room, made all of us stand up, and went around the circle saying either yes or no, based solely on looks. At least half of us didn’t even get the chance to sing or dance! (Btw, even though I’m 5’9″ I took a tip from one of the other girls and played dirty. I stood next to a girl who was borderline in height…and slouched enough so she was almost taller than I was. I got to sing and she didn’t!) Like I said, competition for this role is fierce, and if you get the part but can’t carry it off, you’re in trouble! Ms. Andrews is definitely not in trouble. Just watching her alone all evening would have been an incredible delight. However, she wasn’t the only one stage!

Wally Kedzior played the part of Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s mother. Hysterical. Great timing, great voice, and he wore high heels through at least half the show! (You know me, I noticed the shoes!) Not once did I see him waver on those things either. Full dance numbers. Loved it. Kedzior kept me laughing the whole way through.

Link Larkin (David Geinosky) was another great presence on the stage. Geinosky had the fake smile and “toothpaste ad” persona down pat. I almost cried I laughed so hard at his line, “They can keep us from kissing, but they can’t keep us from singing!” It was delivered perfectly for maximum laughs, as were all of his one-liners. So much fun.

Amber von Tussle was performed so self-absorbed and conceited that I’m a little afraid to ever actually meet Jaclyn Sage Hergott! Hergott left no doubt in anyone’s mind that Amber was the queen bee, and we loved to hate her for it. Hergott has some fantastic vocals, too. Particularly in Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now. Unfortunately, Friday evening saw some mic problems with Amber’s big solo, Cooties, and I wasn’t able to hear her very well, but visually she was perfect.

I’m running out of time to complete this, but there is one more person I must mention. Pascale M. Trouillot played the role of Motormouth Maybelle and left me speechless. I knew when we were watching Big, Blonde and Beautiful that I Know Where I’ve Been was going to be an incredible number, but even with that “warning” I was amazed. I had goosebumps and tears. Gorgeous and sincere.

In the more general realm of compliments, I was super impressed with all of the ensemble members, too. The choreography was not easy, but they made it look like it was. Every movement was sharp and in sync. Choreographers Jennifer Cupani (who was also the director) and Kasper K outdid themselves with brilliant dance numbers. Costuming was brightly colored, interesting to see on stage, and period appropriate…everything it should be. Lighting design was seamless, and once again done so well I had to remind myself to notice it. The orchestra was wonderful, as was the music direction of the singers on stage. There was nary a wrong note all evening.

Yes, I realize I’m gushing a bit, but this was a wonderful production. Were there any problems at all, you may ask? Yeah, there were a couple, but mostly technical and I’m assuming they’ve been fixed. As I said before, poor Amber’s body mic kept cutting out during Cooties, which kinda sucked because I was looking forward to hearing her sing. And in general, the sound mixing was a little off all night. Body mics were up way too loud so that the soloists could be heard over the orchestra, but then it made the ensemble sound weak in comparison.

I also noticed that diction wasn’t as strong as it should have been. I know most of the music and I was having problems understanding was being sung at times. I would encourage everyone in the cast to take the time to make sure they are over-enunciating. The first few rows in the audience may have understood just fine, but by the time it got up to the balcony where we sat it was getting awfully muddled. We lost quite a bit of the dialogue up in the balcony, too.

One more great thing to point out, though, was the curtain call. Lately I’ve seen a lot of extended, indulgent curtain calls. UAC gave us the best curtain call that I’ve seen in a while. Quick bows, quick acknowledgements, and then a short reprise of You Can’t Stop the Beat. Ended the show with all the energy in which it started. That’s a great curtain call.

Basically, I loved it. The kids loved it. We had a fabulous time and I’m so glad we were able to see it. I’ve already recommended it to all my friends, now I’m telling you, too. Go see it. You’ll have a blast. But hurry, there’s only one weekend left!

Hairspray is presented by Up and Coming Theatre at Cutting Hall Theatre in Palatine.

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