Theatre Review: ‘Hairspray’ at Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre

Maggie Donovan (Amber Von Tussle), Kathryn Furtado (Velma Von Tussle); Emily Reggia (Tracy Turnblad), and Brian McDermott (Edna Turnblad). Photo courtesy of Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre.

Over the span of 35 years, more than 150,000 people have attended a show at the Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre which has been providing quality stage plays served with a tasty dinner.

Performed primarily by students, each production serves as a learning experience taught by qualified theatre professionals.  The Artistic Director of the Summer Dinner Theatre, Susan T. Hoffman says that “The most important aspect of our efforts has been sucess of our students.  Each year we watch them grow and discover things they didn’t realize they could do.”

…the Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre’s production of  ‘Hairspray’ is very enjoyable and is worth seeing.

Audience members have been enjoying their current production of the musical, Hairspray for the past two weeks. If you haven’t seen it yet, there is just one more week left to see this fun summer show.

Directed and choreographed by Pauline Grossman, this production features highly energetic dancing performed by a nicely trained cast.  To her credit, Pauline just didn’t choreograph overly simple dances that were easy to learn.  She challenged these students to learn something new and execute it well.  It has been a few weeks since I’ve seen the show and yet I can still picture the dances in my head.

Emily Reggia (Tracy Turnblad), and Brian McDermott (Edna Turnblad). Photo courtesy of Montgomery College.

There is no wonder why the dancing really shines in the show since Pauline is the Dance Coordinator of The Catholic University of America where she is a “driving force behind a new revitalized dance program where the students are given an intense training in a conservatory like music program alongside a strong foundation in dance so they are able to compete in the professional world of musical theatre.”

Adapted from the 1988 John Waters film, Hairspray revolves around a “pleasantly plump” teenager named Tracy Turnblad who dreams of becoming famous and fights to racially integrate The Corny Collins Show in 1962 Baltimore. Based on the Buddy Deane Show which aired on WJZ from 1957 until 1964, teenagers danced their hearts out to the latest music.

Emily Reggia is bubbly and sweet as Tracy Turnblad, the daughter of Edna Turnblad (Brian McDermott) who runs a laundry business out of their home in Hampden. The father, Wilbur Turnblad (William Kenyon), is the owner of the Har-De-Har Hut joke shop. This family is a joy to watch whose adventures take them all over town, including the WZZT TV studio, Motormouth’s Record Shop, and even the Baltimore Women’s House of Detention.

Kelly Craige gives a playful performance as Penny Pingleton, Tracy Turnblad’s socially awkward best friend who has a crush on Seaweed (Saidu Sinlah), one of the African American dancers on “Negro Day” and son of Motormouth Maybelle (Ines Nassara).  Saidu Sinlah has stage presence and is a good dancer with slick moves while Ines Nassara owns the stage and the songs that she sings.  She practically stops the show with her rousing rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been.”  The important message of the lyrics still stands true today.

Saidu Sinlah (Seaweed J. Stubbs), Kelly Craige (Penny Pingleton), and Sakile Lyles (Little Inez). Photo courtesy of Montgomery College.

Sample Lyrics from “I Know Where I’ve Been”:

There’s a dream
In the future.
There’s a struggle
That we have yet to win.
And there’s pride
In my heart
‘Cause i know
Where i’m going
Yes I do !
And i know where i’ve been!

You can’t have the good without the bad.  That is where Velma Von Tussle, the racist producer of the The Corny Collins Show steps in.  Kathryn Furtado is well cast in her role as Velma.  Everything about her portrayal was believable.  From her posture, to her vocal inflections, and her costume and wig.  It also helps that her singing voice is just as powerful as the character in which she plays as in the song “Miss Baltimore Crabs” where she recalls the time when she was crowned Miss Baltimore Crabs.  The high note that she reaches at the end is impressive.

Even though there is a serious undertone to the story, this musical is supposed to have plenty of laughs.  Unfortunately, the comic timing falls flat for much of the show.  In particular, the banter between Edna and Wilbur doesn’t get as many laughs as it could.

While the sound mixing was consistent throughout the play, the vocals didn’t sound as powerful as they could have because the orchestra overpowered the voice.  Better placement of speakers throughout the theatre would also help with the sound distribution.  Still, there was not one incident of feedback from the mics and the cues were spot on.

The scenic design by Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden is one of the best I’ve seen all summer! And the costumes by Peter Zakutansky suit the characters and time period just right. The live orchestra, under the direction of Andrew Morrissey, never misses a beat.  Andy Leech on the trumpet and Dave Cannon on the trombone both do a terrific job along with the rest of the band.

Overall, the Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre’s production of Hairspray is very enjoyable and is worth seeing.

Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission.

Hairspray plays through July 29, 2012 at Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre in the Theatre Arts Building, 51 Mannakee Street, in Rockville, Maryland. For reservations, call the box office at 240-567-7676 or order online.