The verdict was involuntary manslaughter for the racially charged trial of Johannes Mehserle, who was convicted of shooting Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale BART Station. Although Woodminster Summer Musicals didn’t plan on it, the themes of love and living in harmony from it’s 2010 production of Hairspray couldn’t have come at a better time. And the cast and crew did a magnificent job in delivering the message to the crowd.
Hairspray, which won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical in 2003, was written by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Whitman. Woodminster’s 2010 production of this show is under the stage direction of Joel Schlader; musical direction by Richard Vetterli; and dance choreography by Bong Dizon.
The show is set in 1962 Baltimore, MD and opens as crew members roll out what appears to be advertising for the Har-De-Har-Hut, a toys and gadget store. After a few beats of music, the crew turn it around and we’re introduced to Tracy Turnblad (portrayed by Serena Cefalu) as she belts out the opening number, “Good Morning Baltimore”.
A few scenes later, we come upon the conflict of the play – integration of not just African-American people but Motown music or as Velma Von Tussle (Teressa Byrne) puts it, “… that Detroit music” on the The Corny Collins Show. But Corny (Ryan Drummond) is insistent that if the show is to progress, it must include the Motown sound and blacks into the show.
Corny also announces the temporary replacement of one of its female Council Members (dancers) and will do so with open auditions. At the auditions, Tracy is initially rejected along with Lil Inez (Morgan Sandoval); however, Corny sees her dance moves and tells Velma that he has to have Tracy on his show.
The very next day we see Penny Pingleton (Erika Leigh Henningsen), Tracy’s best friend, rushing to Tracy’s home to show Wilbur & Edna Turnblad (Ken Baggott & Greg Carlson) that their daughter is now on TV in The Corny Collins Show which makes Tracy an immediate local celebrity, including being a spokesperson for a clothing company for big beautiful women.
The play’s storyline has Tracy, her family and friends fighting with Velma and her daughter, Amber Von Tussle (Samantha Bruce), for racial equality, fame, and the love of the high school hunk, Link Larkin (Johnny Orenberg). Amber and Link happen to be boyfriend and girlfriend and the heads of The Corny Collins Show’s Council Members.
The TV show also has a monthly “Negro Day” in which Corny is joined by Motormouth Maybelle (Erica Richardson) and her group of dancers featuring her son & daughter, Seaweed J. Stubbs (Dave Abrams) & Lil Inez. During this day, Motown music can be played during the show. Seaweed became good friends with Tracy when she was sent to detention and learned the “Paint” dance with Seaweed and his friends. The play has many twists and turns along the way to its conclusion.
Woodminster’s Hairspray succeeds in pleasing the audience with a dynamic and diverse cast of African-Americans, Caucasians, Hispanics, and several Asians, especially Pilipinos. Although there were some minor issues with the acting (some words or lyrics were forgotten including in the finale, “You Can’t Stop The Beat”, just to name one example), overall it was well done performance.
Cefalu, Orenberg, and Bruce were good leads for the show. Carlson and Baggott were not at the top of their game this evening, but did a good job in their roles. Byrne, who was seen by this reviewer not long ago as Elmire in Moliere’s Tartuffe at Pasadena’s Boston Court which set that play to the San Fernando Valley culture, did another fine performance as Velma.
By far the perfect casting was Abrams & Henningsen who were delightful to watch, especially Abrams. He had all the tools going on – acting, singing, dancing, and even acrobatics that included a tumbling run across the stage. The UC Berkeley student is one to watch in the future, and Henningsen has an angelic voice that’s bound for the Maize & Blue of Michigan.
Additionally, the vocals of Erica Richardson as Motormouth Maybelle was simply amazing. And the singing Dynamites, which was made up of Elizabeth Jones, Tanja Lynne Lee, and Katrina McGraw, wowed the crowd with their sensational voices. They certainly gave the audience a flashback to the heyday of The Supremes.
The dancing seemed flawless, thus mad props to Dizon. And although the singing from some of the principals had some rough moments, the performers got through it in fine form. The orchestra under the direction of Vetterli was superb.
The technical elements were some of the most outstanding work this season in the Bay Area. The set design by Gary Barten was just majestic. However, the set transitions should have had the crew in costumes to keep audience in the moment, and on stage right, there wasn’t enough masking as the audience could see backstage when actors & crew members were running back & forth.
The lighting transitions and spotlight work was challenging at times, but Michael Barney’s design was more than adequate for the production. Next the costumes were just fabulous with the period pieces for the 1960s, especially the finale’s outfits for Tracy & Edna. Finally, the hair and wigs for the period was just awesome, of note was the beehive hairdos of the Von Tussles for conclusion of the play.
If you’d like to watch this production, bring warm clothes and blankets just in case it gets chilly in the Oakland Hills. Additionally, bring a flashlight for your walk back to the parking lot ($5 cash for parking) in the dark. You can also have a picnic as the venue is set up with picnic tables (see slideshow). Hairspray performs Thur-Sun, July 15-18 @ 8 pm at Woodminster Amphitheater in Oakland’s Joaquin Miller Park, 3300 Joaquin Miller Road Oakland, CA 94602. For tickets, call (510) 531-9597 or click on the links below:
The Woodminster Summer Musicals 2010 Productions calendar also has slated The Music Man from Aug. 6th – 15th and Paint Your Wagon from Sep 3rd – 12th. For more information, call the number above or follow the link to Woodminster.com.