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Arts & Culture

Ashland Theater Review: Hairspray

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Jenny Graham
/
Oregon Shakespeare Festival

“Hairspray,” now playing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is bound to be a hit for young and old. It’s a bright, bouncy, warm-hearted musical that’s been charming audiences since 2002 as it aims to encourage tolerance and good will toward all.

Originally a movie created by John Waters as a wacky love letter to Baltimore and its eccentric but endearing characters, the musical version is cleaned up and message-driven. In the Ashland production directed by Christopher Liam Moore, the inclusivity message is loud and clear. Some roles have been adapted for people with disabilities, most notably in the case of Jenna Bainbridge as Penny, the loyal, slightly geeky best friend of Tracy Turnblad, a plus-sized teen who dreams of dancing on a local TV show.

Tracy, as played by Katy Geraghty, shines a powerful light on wrongs that need fixing. Set in 1962, “Hairspray” presents a sunny view of the positive results of banding together.

Tracy’s mother, Edna, always played by a large man, is lovingly portrayed by Daniel Parker, and I doubt than anyone could do it better. Edna’s tender love duet with her husband, played by David Kelly, is a highlight of the show.   

Another show stopper is Greta Oglesby as Motormouth Maybelle, the matriarch of the black community. On opening night she received a standing ovation in the middle of the second act with her anthem, “I Know Where I’ve Been.”

Except for that song, clearly inspired by Sam Cook, the music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are upbeat but not especially memorable. The gritty set representing downtown Baltimore, is impressively versatile.

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