The latest, greatest, Baltimore sound comes alive in the Hippodrome Theatre this week. The National Tour of “Hairspray” made its mark on the city as it started its Baltimore run last evening. Set in Baltimore in the 1960’s, “Hairspray” shares a humorous, yet important, story of hope and inclusion, with a rockin’ soundtrack by Marc Shaiman.
As a native New Yorker who has seen many Broadway shows, this production was quite possibly the most fun I’ve had in a theatre.
A few seconds into the first song, “Good Morning Baltimore,” I felt like I was watching an elevated high school performance – with the seemingly small cast and the minimal set piece. It wasn’t until the audience heard the word “Baltimore” for the first time and the lights came up that the theatre truly came alive.
The vivacious production starred the dynamic Niki Metcalf as Tracy Turnblad – an outcast, white girl in the 1960’s who just wants to dance with people of all backgrounds and share a message of inclusion. From the moment Metcalf sang her first note, she had the audience locked in. She found a way to embody Tracy that was true to the character, yet gave it her own flair.
Perhaps, the real stars of this show were the swing members. As a huge Nina West fan, I was disappointed to see that Andrew Levitt would not be playing Edna Turnblad at this show. However, Greg Kalafatas had the audience and I in the palm of his hand from the moment he stepped on the stage. The genius comedic timing of, not only Kalafatas, but the entire cast, had the audience erupting in laughter for the full 2.5 hours.
The swing powerhouse continued with Gabriyel Thomas who played Motormouth Maybelle. She served us big, blonde, and a beautiful voice.
It would be an injustice not to mention Jamonté D. Bruten’s groovy and charming Seaweed. Bruten found a way to connect with the audience before he opened his mouth with just his funky movements. Coincidentally, his voice was just as good.
The energy throughout the whole show was electrifying. Not one moment did anyone lack life, which is a tough thing to achieve with such panache choreography (by Jerry Mitchell and Michele Lynch).
The direction of Jack O’Brien was crisp and expressive. The combination of the lighting and set design transformed the stage to make us feel as though we were actually in Baltimore… which thankfully, in this case, we were.
As a queer person moving to Baltimore for the first time, the show’s message of inclusion and hope gave me a warm feeling in the “Charm City.” I was excited to see the show in Baltimore because I knew the cast and audience would both feel a special connection to the performance, which we definitely all did.
I genuinely loved every part of this performance. For a show that has been sometimes over-performed, I had just as much fun as I did the first time I fell in love with “Hairspray” back in 2007.
“Hairspray” runs at the Hippodrome Theatre through June 19th.