Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 11, 2013


Opera House Players, Broad Brook, CT
through February 24, 2013
by Kait Rankins

“Hairspray” is the story of effervescent teen Tracy Turnblad, who despite being short and stout has dreams of rising to stardom as a dancer on the Corny Collins Show. Along the way, she breaks social and racial barriers and helps to integrate the program and usher it into the modern era where everyone can dance together.

The fast-paced musical adaptation of the 1988 John Waters film is unquestionably difficult. The music is catchy but hard to sing, the comedy is quick and clever, and the ensemble must deliver infectious energy to the audience. Under the skilled direction of Becky Beth Benedict, they absolutely succeed.

Benedict and choreographer Alison Bogatay keep up the pace with the kind of staging that's necessary for modern musicals: constant movement, tight dance, and a minimum of mobile set pieces. Most of the transitions between scenes are seamless, with only a couple of noticeable exceptions that break the otherwise consistent flow of action. The lead cast and ensemble stand up to the challenge of keeping up the energy; in many community theatre productions the ensemble can lack focus, but every member of the “Hairspray” carries the show with pep and personality.

Most notable performances include Nina Rodriguez, who despite her young age carries the role of Tracy's best friend Penny with brilliant comedic flair; and Ruben Soto, who plays Seaweed J. Stubbs with incredible charisma and a powerful voice. Michael King and Rick Fountain, Jr. are clearly the heart of the production as Tracy's parents Edna and Wilbur. They take what could easily become one-note comedic characters and give them charm, heart, and surprising romantic chemistry.

Unfortunately, a lot of the show's stellar performances are overshadowed by sound issues, with mics not coming on at the right time or often being turned up too loud and causing problems with sound balance and making strong singing performances sound shrill. Despite this, the cast's energy is still infectious and the show's message simple but powerful.

Due to the snowstorm, an added performance of “Hairspray” will be held Wednesday, February 20.