It was a good hair day for Hairspray in Seattle on Monday when the reviews came out for the new musical adapted from John Waters' 1988 movie.
The show, which is playing an exclusive pre-Broadway engagement at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, received positive reviews from the city's two major newspapers and Daily Variety.
Here are excerpts:
Misha Berson wrote in The Seattle Times: "A Bye Bye Birdie for the Age of Irony, this is a retro-pop romp with wit, heart, a social conscience and, rarity of rarities, a new score by composer Marc Shaiman and his co-lyricist Scott Wittman that really makes you want to go dance in the streets.
"Expertly assembled by director Jack O'Brien (The Full Monty) and many other shrewd and loving hands, Hairspray is - for my money - the zippiest and least synthetic or mawkish in a glut of recent musicals spun off hit movies and Billboard backlists. ...
"Hairspray is big, smart fun - splendidly performed with a score that bears repeated listens. Hey, if New York doesn't twist and shout about it, just bring it on back."
Joe Adcock wrote in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "Almost everything about it is fun: the acting, the songs, the dancing, the story, the staging, the scenery, the costumes and especially the wigs. ...
"From the moment the lead character, Tracy, wakes up and sings, `Good Morning Baltimore,' it is clear that we are in for a strong dose of optimism, good will, high spirits and wit. ...
"Fortunately, minor snags and sags get lost in the general exuberance. Hairspray's essential momentum kicks in fast. Little confusions and disappointments are no match for the show's rush of fun, fun, fun."
And Lynn Jacobson wrote in Variety: " ... it took only three snappy, candy-colored scenes to demonstrate that writers Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman have a shiny new hit on their hands.
"OK, maybe only two scenes. ...
"Whereas the movie Hairspray was low-budget, class-conscious and just weird and subversive enough to become a kind of camp classic, the musical is slickly produced, wholesome and drop-dead earnest in its message of racial harmony - a wise move for a show intended to capture mainstream Broadway ticket-buyers."
Opening night was not without a few glitches. A missed scenery cue resulted in a five-minute delay after the first number, and Variety also mentioned sound problems. These sorts of snags, of course, are one reason shows like to work out the kinks out of town. The Seattle run ends Sunday. Broadway previews start July 18 at the Neil Simon Theatre; opening night is Aug. 15.
What separates Alan Bennett's 1973 comedy, Habeas Corpus, from the typical sex farce is that the script spoofs itself. It's a nifty spin, but one that complicates the actors' tasks since a cardinal rule of farce is that it has to be played with deadly seriousness.
At the Vagabond Players, director Patrick Martyn and cast make a game attempt. Indeed, some of their tomfoolery is inspired - particularly Binnie Ritchie Holum's nimble high jinks as a meddlesome, impudent maid.
But timing is crucial in a farce, and this production often feels a few seconds off. Like most sex farces, Habeas Corpus is filled with mistaken identities, dropped drawers and sexual innuendo. (A dowager with a well-padded backside is named "Lady Rumpers," and the vicar is "Canon Throbbing.")
The vicar wants to marry a mousy woman named Connie. But her sole interest in life is enlarging her bustline. Her brother, Arthur Wicksteed, is a doctor who lusts after his female patients; he's currently attempting to bed the aforementioned Lady Rumpers' daughter, Felicity. Meanwhile, Felicity, who happens to be pregnant out of wedlock, is scheming to marry the doctor's hypochondriacal son. And on and on and on.
The two actors burdened with most of the script's self-referential moments handle them with winking aplomb. Holum plays the maid as a seditious sprite urging the action along; early on, she drapes a vacuum cleaner hose around her neck and uses one end as a microphone to introduce the characters. And as lecherous Dr. Wicksteed, Michael B. Styer addresses the audience directly on several occasions and in one case delivers a subtle send-up of the Stage Manager in Our Town.
Also amusing are Annmarie Amlick as the doctor's flat-chested sister, Linda Chambers as his frustrated wife, Lynda McClary as haughty Lady Rumpers and Elisabeth Ogrin as her desperate daughter. Terry Horsely, however, is too slow on the uptake as the head of the British Medical Association, and one slow performance, even a minor one, can make a major difference in a farce.
Director Martyn adds some nice comic touches, such as having gloved hands pop through doorways to offer props to the characters. And you can't help but smile at the bosom-shaped lighting fixtures on the walls of the set. But in the end, while the Vagabonds' efforts are diverting, they're never quite delirious, and Habeas Corpus remains earthbound, instead of airborne.
Show times at the Vagabonds, 806 S. Broadway, are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through June 30. Tickets are $12. Call 410-563-9135.
In the spotlight
Baltimore actress Vivienne Shub will be featured on tonight's edition of ArtsWorks This Week (8 p.m.-8:30 p.m., MPT, Channels 22 and 76). Shub, who is president of the Baltimore Theatre Alliance, will be interviewed by host Rhea Feikin about the Alliance's seventh annual area-wide auditions, to be held this Saturday and Monday.