BEMIDJI—The Paul Bunyan Playhouse brings it home in a big way for the grand musical finale of their summer season. Opening tonight at 7:30 in the Historical Chief Theater, "Hairspray" is all about being big, even when those around you are being small.
Based on the film written and directed by John Waters, "Hairspray: The Broadway Musical," has a lot of volume. Winning eight Tony awards out of 13 nominations, including Best Musical, it is chock full of spectacular songs, impressive dancing and vibrant characters, providing a great evening of energetic entertainment for young and old, alike.
The story is based on big-hearted, curvy teenager Tracy Turnblad, superbly played by Gianna Schiller. Smitten with young heartthrob Link Larkin, dashingly done by Tommy McCarthy, she watches him perform on the local teen dance program, dreaming of becoming his dance partner on the program, as well as for life. When the opportunity to audition for just such a chance is announced, Tracy's mother (traditionally played by a male actor and expertly done here by Geoff Stephenson), discourages Tracy in following her star. Tracy's father, Wilbur (deftly portrayed by Kevin Beebee) throws Tracy his unconditional, loving support which, in turn, encourages Tracy to learn some crazy moves from her friend, Seaweed, compellingly done by Peyton Dixon.
These jaw-dropping dance moves, along with Tracy's honest and kind heart, gives her the impetus to enchant the television land audience and the dance show host himself, Corny Collins, convincingly campy as played by Daniel Lane.
The most vocal and downright vicious opponent to this enlightened state of affairs is the Disney-esque villainess Velma Von Tussle, former Miss Baltimore Crabs, craftily portrayed here by Nicole Korbisch. As the dance show producer, she hatches a diabolical scheme to keep "black in the back" and is accompanied in this by her daughter, Amber Von Tussle, persuasively portrayed by Maddy La Roche. They despicably seek to keep Tracy from using her newfound fame to bring integration to Baltimore. Can Tracy effect great societal change without affecting her grandiose hairdo? Helping the audience with the answer to that question is a most gifted and consummate cast, featuring Heather McElrath as Motormouth Maybelle, Hana Toward as Little Inez, Alle Bowman, Michael Quadrozzi, Gavin King, Nikia Brown, Mikayla McKasy, Starr-Lyne Paul, Abby Sexton, Braden Joseph, Jack Lee Wood, Abbey Iberg, Logan Clingan, Rachel Smith, Hunter Carpenter, Anna Gwaltney, Jordan Mann and Cale Rausch.
The musical numbers performed by one, all or some of this cast are thoroughly pleasing; some sweeping us up in enthusiastic applause and some giving us reason to pause as we ponder the themes from 1962 still present today.
"Hairspray" is a big, bawdy and bold production, requiring an excellent, skilled team to make it come so dynamically to life on stage. Those responsible for doing just that are director Jim Williams, musical director Dan Will, choreographer Heidi Spersard-Noble, stage manager Shelley Gorak, assisted by Kayla Williams-Schwarze, scene designer Philip Hoks, lighting designer Grant E. Merges, costume designer Marilyn Hood, assisted by Donna Anderson, sound engineer Sean Conlon, technical director Ryan Zako, general technician Jaxon Anderson and dance captain Abby Sexton. The band, featuring Dan Will on keyboard, Greg Gaston on percussion, Dan Nelson on the electric guitar and Aaron Schnackenberg on the electric bass and saxophone, do a brilliant job all while playing from eight feet in the air, center-stage.
The Paul Bunyan Playhouse production of "Hairspray: The Broadway Musical" runs today through Saturday at 7:30 with a Sunday, Aug. 5, matinee at 2 p.m. continuing Wednesday, Aug. 8, matinee at 2 p.m., followed by 7:30 evening performances Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 11. There is a 15-minute intermission. Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at (218) 751-7270 or online at www.thechieftheater.com/tickets.html. Tickets for this performance are $27 with a student ticket available for $15. "Hairspray" is underwritten by Sanford Health and First National Bank of Bemidji.
IF YOU GO:
What: "Hairspray: The Broadway Musical"
Where: Chief Theater, 314 Beltrami Ave., downtown Bemidji.
When: Today through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., 2 p.m. Sunday; 2 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8; 7:30 p.m. shows Thursday-Saturday next week.
Tickets: General admission is $27, with a student ticket of $15; (218) 751-7270 or online at www.thechieftheater.com/tickets.html.