“Hairspray” brings a joyous, heartfelt and timely message to Eccles TheaterApr 12, 2023 15h52 ● By Peri Kinder
“You Can’t Stop the Beat” (Center, in red and pink from L) Andrew Levitt (aka Nina West) as “Edna Turnblad,” Niki Metcalf as “Tracy Turnblad” and Company in “Hairspray.” (Photo courtesy of Jeremy Daniel)
From the moment she wakes up, Tracy Turnblad (Niki Metcalf) is already singing and dancing. A teen living in Baltimore in 1962, Tracy is obsessed with three things: being a dancer on “The Corny Collins Show,” being kissed by heartthrob Link Larkin (Nick Cortazzo) and having big hair with lots of hairspray.
Based on the 1988 film directed by John Waters, the Broadway production addresses the ideas of beauty, segregation and living in an era of change. The production at Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City is a colorful and bright story of one “short and stout” teen who wants to buck tradition by dancing on TV.
But Tracy needs to get past the evil gatekeepers of Amber Von Tussle (played by Carly Haig on opening night) and her beauty-queen mother (Addison Garner) who want to keep the “The Corny Collins Show” (similar to “American Bandstand,” featuring the “nicest kids in town”) white and thin.
Tracy’s mother, Edna, (played by crowd favorite Andrew Levitt aka Nina West) fears for her daughter, understanding that the world can be a cruel place when you don’t fit into its physical requirements. But she takes her own journey to self-acceptance while learning to live “Big, Blonde and Beautiful.”
Wilbur Turnblad (Ralph Prentice Daniel) owns the Har-De-Har Hut joke shop and heartily supports his daughter, Tracy. Wilbur’s duet with his wife, “Timeless to Me,” brought the house down with its fun lyrics and deep connection between the two characters.
As Tracy makes her way onto the show, her agenda isn’t complete - she also wants to introduce Black dancers to the very white show, in a move of integration and inclusion. Her wild schemes land her in trouble, but her sweet heart and optimistic longing get her through any rough patch.
Will she get the boy, bring diversity to the show, win the Miss Teenage Hairspray crown and help bring inclusion to Baltimore? You’ll have to watch the musical to find out.
The show included great performances by Bill Dawson (Corny Collins), Emery Henderson (Penny Pingleton), Charlie Bryant III (Seaweed J. Stubbs) Emmanuelle Zeesman (Prudy Pingleton, the gym teacher and the matron) and Lauren Johnson (Motormouth Maybelle).
“Hairspray” is a family-friendly show, with catchy tunes and showstopping dance numbers. It won eight Tony Awards (Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Director, Best Actress in a Musical, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Featured Actor in a Musical and Best Costume Design) and continues to entertain audiences with its socially significant messages that tackle prejudice and body image.
A Broadway favorite, the show runs at Eccles Theater through Sunday, April 16. Limited tickets are available at saltlakecity.broadway.com.