BOILING SPRINGS -- This has been a summer in which a couple of optimistic gals brought feel-good musical messages to the Allenberry Playhouse.
Following everyone's favorite orphan "Annie," who hopes for a brighter "Tomorrow," a pleasantly plump teenager hopes for and leads a fight for racial equality in "Hairspray."
The big, colorful musical "Hairspray" vibrates on Allenberry's stage with matinee and evening performances Wednesdays through Sundays, now through Sept. 7.
“Hairspray” will be performed Wednesdays through Sundays until Sept. 7 at Allenberry Playhouse. For more info, visit www.allenberry.com.
Adapted from John Walter's 1988 comedy film, "Hairspray" won over Broadway with the 2002 musical production, capturing eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Original Score and wins for Leading Actor and Actress.
Harvey Fierstein won the Tony Award as Best Lead Actor, donning dresses and a "Big, Blond, and Beautiful" hair-do to play Edna, Turnblad, the mother of dancing daughter Tracy.
The 2007 movie version was also a box-office hit, primarily as millions flocked to see John Travolta switch genders to play Edna.
So, although the buzz is often on the actor playing mother Edna, the focus in "Hairspray" is clearly on the big-boned daughter Tracy.
Set in 1960s Baltimore, Tracy, who loves to dance, senses change is in the air. Singing to Edna, "Mama, I'm A Big Girl Now," she and her devoted and slightly dorky friend Penny, audition for the Corny Collins Show. Landing a coveted spot, Tracy becomes an overnight sensation on the show, meeting and instantly falling in love with the show's heartthrob Link Larkin, much to the dismay of the show's dictatorial producer Velma Von Tussle, always conspiring to keep her whimpering daughter Amber in the limelight.
Much of the show's success is probably due to "Hairspray," being not only a musical with catchy tunes and comical characters, but also a social commentary on some injustices rampant in big cities during the early '60s. A subplot has a black youngster expressing feelings for Tracy's friend Penny, forcing the interracial couple to keep their romance a secret from her prudish mother.
Tracy is bent on righting the wrongs of keeping Baltimore's black teenagers off the dance show. And after meeting big soulful Motormouth Maybelle, Tracy devises a plan to storm the studio during the "Miss Teenage Baltimore Awards Show." And so as is easily predictable, Tracy is declared the winner and The Corny Collins Show is fully integrated as the cast belt out "You Can't Stop the Beat."
The Tony Award winning score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman was often revised during pre-Broadway runs and certain songs added and deleted when "Hairspray" hit the silver screen.
The show opens with Tracy greeting the new day with "Good Morning, Baltimore," which is later reprised. And contributing to the length is this and several other reprises, including "Nicest Kids In Town," and the hilarious duet between Tracy's parents "You're Timeless to Me."
The show, without Allenberry's pre-show welcome and an expanded intermission, runs almost two and three quarters hours.
But at no time is there a dull moment as the infectious score keeps bringing hoots and plenty of applause from Allenberry's audience.
A big, energetic cast give uniformly solid characterizations, ranging from the innocent, charming Tracy and her not so self effacing mother, to the cartoon villainess Velma, the audience pleasing Motormouth, and the entire supporting cast.
"Hairspray" breaks a show business tradition by not giving the big finale to the oversized heroine Tracy, but instead to Motormouth Maybelle for her stirring "I Know Where I've Been." As it is the black family whose struggles as Tracy tries remedies, it is a fitting choice for Motormouth to raise the roof in one of the final numbers.
The message is to simply remember it's what's inside that matters, not one's weight or color of their skin. That is still a timely message, so "Hairspray" continues to resonates with today's audiences.
The dances are energetically, sometimes frantically presented, and the Allenberry Playhouse stage sometimes looks almost too small to rein in all the flashy, sweeping choreography.
There's good technical support from the lighting and set designs for the many colorful costumes which create the stylized early 1960s ambiance.
Despite its predictable ending, some cheesy dialogue, and silly characters, "Hairspray" is a feel-good entertaining musical. And yes, rumor has it that the artistic director had to increase the budget to pay or all those cans of hairspray to keep the gravity defying hairdos in place.
Allenberry Playhouse: 1669 Boiling Springs Rd, Boiling Springs, Pa. Reservations: (717) 258-3211; or visit www.allenberry.com