News Column

?Hairspray? finds professional crew, musicians working with on-stage triple threats

August 22, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 22--Few assumed that lightning possibly could strike twice for the Sidecar Theatre Company -- not after making its Lubbock debut with an unexpected, knock-'em-dead city debut of the "Civil War" musical revue at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center Theatre.

Company executives waited more than six months to choose their sophomore production -- "Hairspray," a musical comedy with a conscience and, yet again, a Lubbock debut.

Under the stage and musical direction of Joshua A. Aguirre and Debra Flournoy-Buford, respectively, this funny play would fill every inch of the Firehouse Theatre inside the LHUCA gallery.

In fact, the show found playwright John Waters recapturing the teenage dance programs so popular in the early 1960s -- and yet a '60s memory whose hilarious settings only barely hid the day's bigotry.

One sort was obvious, as the play's television station takes only a baby step forward by advertising "Negro Dance Day" only one day each month.

When choosing the show's so-called best dancers, aka "the nicest kids in town," cameras were aimed only at pretty faces and figures.

But no matter. A teen named Tracy Turnblad, played with delightful style by Ann Marie Nichols, changes all that.

Her enthusiam is apparent from the play's opening number, "Good Morning Baltimore," and she will not let anything dilute her happiness or confidence when she learns of an opening on "The Corny Collins Show," her favorite teen dance program.

(It seems one of the girl dancers must take a mandatory nine-month vacation. Wonder why.)

But Tracy figures she's got it all. She is bothered not a whit by her so-called "plus-size figure"; her mother, portrayed by Ronnie D. Miller, is much more scared for her.

Even receiving high school detention only provides her with an opportunity to learn new R&B dance moves from fellow student Seawood Stubbs, the "African-American" who is the school's best dancer.

So as long as she has enough hairspray to keep her mountainous 'do high above her head, not even mean-spirited insults tossed at her by the cruel Amber Von Tussle can dilute Tracy's confidence.

Indeed, the masses watching Tracy on TV already have fallen in love with her personality and outspoken nature.

That alone would make her happy. But as it happens, it seems her favorite boy on the show notices her. OK, so his brushing his arm against her may have been a total accident. But as soon as it happened, Tracy's immediate response was to sing, loudly, "I Can Hear the Bells."

Others joined in, and it was difficult to stop laughing ... or hoping.

It is a hilarious moment, and only one of so many in this show. Flournoy-Buford is on the very same page with Aguirre, and they obviously turned months of rehearsals into a musical boot camp.

How else could the cast work together like clockwork?

The result is more than a dozen triple-threat performers having been found, all able to act, sing and dance as three girls in co-starring roles -- Tracy, Penny and Amber -- eventually claim more independence even from family members they adore.

And so many wonderful songs are filled with humor, love or special memories.

After all, the times, they are a'changing. Well, this particular play predates Dylan and the British invasion, true. But the host of The Corny Collins Show, Corny himself, certainly is aware that civil rights have been an unspoken issue for far too long.

One person assumes Tracy must be a radical, even "a communist," when she is interviewed for the first time.

But before the show's sponsor can buckle under, Collins, played by John Davis, simply points out that "Negro" teens also are buying hairspray.

In many board rooms, a profit line is deciding factor enough.

The manner in which ensembles breathe life into this show is a testament to the professionalism involved. A variety of ages are featured within the so-called Nicest Kids in Town and yet, even when most eyes are on the stars, every dancer is pushing his or her body to the limit.

I do not know the names of each, but their efforts make this show that much more entertaining.

I'm also uncertain where Davis found his memorable shoes and lick suit, but he also refused to let "the nicest kids" have all the fun. In fact, they move aside and make room for him to join their chorus lines one moment -- the next minute allowing him to leave long enough to upstage the producer with his threat to take his show to another station.

Undoubtedly, "Hairspray" is yet another coming out for Ann Marie "Annie" Nichols. She makes the role of Tracy Turnblad her own in every possible way. Her work put in over months is apparent -- but never more so than when Tracy slowly helps her mother, Edna, achieve her strength and independence.

Those producing the show discover Waters insists Tracy's mom be played by a male actor, whether on stage or on screen (Divine, John Travolta, etc.)

Edna, whose girlhood dream was to design clothes, has confined herself inside her apartment for a decade, feeling guilty about her weight.

So when her daughter decides to welcome her to the '60s in song, there is love quite naturally mixed within the humor.

The show owes a huge thanks to costumers Jake Morgan and Amber Langahenning, never more so than when Morgan takes charge of dressing Edna beautifully for the closing, confident "I Got the Beat."

Other soloists impress for different reasons. Laura L. Cunningham, as Motormouth Maybelle, nails her poetic dialogue throughout. As delightful as one might find her "Big, Blonde and Beautiful," she digs deep into her soul to reflect on what she survived when singing "I Know Where I've Been."

And finally, coming across like one of the best vocalists hired to sing villanous roles in a number of modern animated Disney efferts, one is deeply impressed when Velma (Teresa Moore) recalls all of her rule-breaking victories that resulted in her winning the tile of "Miss Baltimore Crabs."

Oh, it's funny, it's nasty and, just as she does not miss a note, she does not regret one unethical choice. Plus, there is not a moment when she doesn't wish she could do it all again.

This is as flawless as musical comedy can get on the local stage. So don't let this final weekend sneak past you. After all, Miller already is saying that his feet hurt. It may be years before he acts in heels again. You won't want to miss his acting, singing and dancing as a woman. Like the rest, he, too, is a triple threat.

william.kerns@lubbockonline.com

-- 766-8712

Follow William on Twitter

@AJ_WilliamKerns

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(c)2013 the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock, Texas)

Visit the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock, Texas) at www.lubbockonline.com

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