At least for Music Theatre Wichita’s production of “Hairspray,” it turns out you truly can’t stop the beat.
“You Can’t Stop the Beat” is more than just the finale of the popular 2002 musical – it might as well be the credo of the entire production.
This hard-charging, gleeful production of “Hairspray” never lets up, filling a solid 2.5 hours with song and oh-so-precise dancing.
The production is led by Claire Manship, whose spunk and smile as Tracy Turnblad is infectious. Manship’s impressive dance moves easily compare to those of the plastic “Nicest Kids in Town” on the Corny Collins Show.
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It’s a delight to watch Tracy’s transformation from chubby outsider to teen trendsetter almost overnight.
Tracy’s mother, Edna – played here by Sam Zeller (”Kinky Boots”) – frequently had the audience laughing.
In “Hairspray,” Edna is traditionally played by a man, in keeping with the original John Waters movie, in which Edna was drag queen Divine. Edna’s chemistry with her husband, Wilbur (played here by Larry Raben), is impeccable.
One of the greatest standouts of this production was Lily Kaufmann – who plays Tracy’s bumbling sidekick, Penny Pingleton. Kaufmann, a Kansas City native and recent Florida State University grad, is hilarious in the role – humanizing a character that, ultimately, has an impressive transformation herself.
Also of note: Altamiece Cooper, in her second go-round playing Motormouth Maybelle (previously playing the role for MTW in 2007), gave the audience goosebumps belting the soulful “I Know Where I’ve Been.”
Sometimes it can be distracting when ensemble members get too carried away in the background, but in this musical, it was great fun to watch each ensemble member’s antics. No one stood out as being disengaged. Kudos to director Mark Madama for encouraging this ensemble to develop their characters’ backstories.
The choreography, by Music Theatre Wichita and “So You Think You Can Dance?” veteran Al Blackstone and assistant Katie Drablos, is superb.
A quick note on set design as well: the bold choice of a passerelle pays dividends for this production. On the passerelle – a semi-circular catwalk extending into the audience – cast members could stand practically on top of audience members, giving the production a much more intimate feel than if it were confined to the stage.
My only qualm with the production was a particularly unfortunate opening-night glitch toward the end of the production. As the show was driving toward its conclusion, Taylor Sherry’s microphone cut out for the entire duration of her solo, “Cooties.” Un-amplified for the song, Sherry (playing the prissy Amber Von Tussle) seemed unsure what to do leading the “Nicest Kids in Town,” and lost the “Mean Girls”-esque confidence she exhibited for the first three-quarters of the show. It was an unfortunate derailment that threw off the show’s rhythm right before its finale – luckily, “Hairspray” got back on track shortly thereafter.
Overall, Music Theatre Wichita’s “Hairspray” is a spirited show that will leave audiences smiling – and hopefully thinking about some of the tough racial and social themes it presents, despite its bright, bubble-gum facade.
What: Based on the original 1988 film, “Hairspray” is a Tony Award-winning musical set in the 1960s – the third show of MTW’s 2017 season.
Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas
When: 7:30 p.m. Thu., 8 p.m. Fri., 2 and 8 p.m. Sat., and 2 and 7 p.m. Sun.