By Rita J. Egan
A few mists of hairspray, and a whole lot of talent, transformed the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts into a Broadway theater this weekend. The venue’s production of “Hairspray” opened this past Saturday night to a packed house.
Jordan Hue expertly directs a cast of more than 30 talented musical theater actors. Based on the 1988 movie by John Waters that starred Ricki Lake and Divine, the musical stage production debuted in 2002 and ran for more than six years on Broadway. With music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman and book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, the play inspired the release of a second movie in 2007, which starred John Travolta.
Rhythm and blues and 60s-style dance music, combined with a good dose of love and humor, create this coming-of-age tale. Set in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1962, our heroine, Tracy Turnblad, dreams of appearing on a local television dance program called “The Corny Collins Show.” When she finally snags a spot on the show, the plus-sized teenager learns about the injustices in the country, not only when it comes to size but also for non-whites. The determined Tracy then begins a crusade to integrate the production and opens up a completely new world for herself as well as her parents and friends.
The Smithtown production opens as Tracy, played by Noelle Eichenlaub, and the ensemble greet the day with the rousing “Good Morning Baltimore.” The actors set the stage for a high-energy show, liveliness that they sustain right until the very end with the upbeat and infectious “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”
Eichenlaub possesses strong vocals on all her numbers, which include the songs mentioned above as well as “I Can Hear the Bells” and “Welcome to the 60s,” and she captures the sweetness and optimism of Tracy with every note, dance step and line.
Ryan Nolin portrayed Tracy’s mother Edna to the hilt on opening night, and while he may have big shoes to fill with the likes of Divine, Harvey Fierstein and John Travolta playing the role in the past, the actor filled them brilliantly with a great amount of comedic ability. The statuesque Nolin perfectly captures the self-conscious yet strong nature of the loving, protective mother. The actor, who alternates performances with Michael Newman, garnered a huge amount of laughs in all the right places. During the number “You’re Timeless to Me” with Eugene Dailey, a charmingly quirky Wilbur Turnblad, the duo were delightful and received an enormous amount of laughs and applause from the audience.
Michelle Rubino is convincing as anxious and awkward Penny Pingleton, Tracy’s best friend. It’s hard to believe this is the same graceful girl who played Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” on the same stage a few months ago. The versatile young actress showed off her strong vocals during her parts in the songs “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” and “Without Love.”
Michael Marmann, who starred with Rubino in “The Little Mermaid” as Prince Charming, now charms the audience as Link Larkin, the lead male dancer on “The Corny Collins Show” and Tracy’s crush. The actor smoothly channels a 60s heartthrob, and while performing the song “It Takes Two” with his fellow male dance show members, he sweetly sings the ballad like the lead singer of a boy band.
When Tracy encounters Seaweed, played by Dondi Rollins Jr., and the record shop kids in detention, we get to hear smooth, soulful vocals from Rollins on “Run and Tell That.” This is where M.E. Junge’s choreography takes center stage, too. While all the cast members during the show handle the choreography with ease, Rollins and Kordell Hammond, who plays Duane, both display excellent dance abilities.
Amanda-Camille Isaac as Motormouth Maybelle performed a riveting “I Know Where I’ve Been.” When joined by the record shop kids, the song was elevated to gospel-song-like quality, and by the sounds of the immense applause, it seemed the opening night audience agreed.
Denise Antonelle portrays the immoral show producer Velma Von Tussel and delivers the number “(The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs” with the wickedness of a Disney evil queen. The number sets the tone perfectly for what Tracy is up against to integrate her favorite show.
Alexa Brin as Velma’s spoiled daughter Amber is amusingly annoying as Tracy’s arch-nemesis, who not only tries to stand in our heroine’s way to dance on the show but also to win the Miss Teenage Hairspray competition. The actress also shines vocally in the numbers “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” and “Cooties.”
Adding even more liveliness and high-powered vocals to the number “Welcome to the 60s” were the Dynamites portrayed by Janelle Primm, Diamond Essence White and Isaac. Lauren Tirado as Seaweed’s sister, Little Inez, also demonstrates great vocals on the songs she’s included on.
Ronnie Green as Corny Collins was smooth and confident. It should be noted that the dance show’s council members played by Samantha Cuomo, David Reyes, Matthew Healey, Samantha Foti, Christian Arma, Caroline Anderson, Tommy Castelli and Lisa Naso, and the record shop kids Tirado, Primm, White, Hammond, Elijah Andrews and Jahlil Burke, as well as the swing members, are as integral to the high energy of the show as the lead characters, and they do not disappoint. Adding to the show’s hijinks were the hysterical Anne Marie Finnie as Penny’s overprotective mom, the jailhouse matron and obnoxious gym teacher, and Erich Grathwohl in the roles of Mr. Pinky and Mr. Harriman F. Spritzer, president of Ultra Clutch hairspray.
The Broadway-quality numbers would not be complete without conductor Melissa Coyle along with musicians Craig Coyle, Brian Schatz, Ray Sabatello, Ricky Enderle and Jim Waddell. Also, congratulations to costume designer Ronnie Green for the fun, vibrant outfits, and scenic designer Timothy Golebiewski for the colorful, versatile set. While leaving the theater on opening night, audience members raved about how wonderful the show was, including one person who said that Smithtown’s “Hairspray” was just as good as a Broadway musical.
The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E Main Street, Smithtown, presents “Hairspray” until Aug. 28. All seats are $35. For show schedule and more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.