Below is a review of Zilker Theatre Production’s performance of Hairspray at Zilker Park. Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com.
If you’re looking for theatre during the summer, you aren’t exactly short of options in Austin, Texas. You may be, however, a bit short on cash. Enter the annual Zilker Summer Musical: a professionally produced, family friendly, fun filled musical, put on in the heart of Austin for free. Yes, you read that correctly- if you can get over the humidity, you’re in for a rare theatrical treat.
In its 57th season, Zilker Theatre Productions presentsHairspray, the 2002 Tony Award winner about young ingénue Tracy Turnblad (Samantha Bagdon) on a mission to integrate the local Corny Collins Show in 1960s Baltimore. Based on the 1988 John Waters film, Hairsprayhas toured the world, plaed London’s West End, and became a major motion picture since its close at the Neil Simon Theatre in New York City.
For those unfamiliar, the Zilker Theatre Summer Musical isn’t your average backyard play. With (what I can assume) thousands of dollars in sponsorships and donations going towards everything from the actors to the Broadway-caliber set, Hairspray in Zilker Park is literally the cheapest you will ever come to the Great White Way. It being done extremely well is just an added bonus.
Bagdon is a delightful, can’t help but laugh at (in the most loving way) her ingenuity Tracy Turnblad. Side-by-side with her loveably-dorky best friend Penny Pingelton (played by a perfectly-fit Kristin Hall), Tracy befriends Seaweed J. Stubbs (Vincent Hooper), successfully lands a spot on Corny Collins’ (Tyler Jones) daytime dance show, and attempts to integrate despite roadblocks by the show’s producer, Velma Von Tussle (Megan Richards Wright), and her entitled daughter, stereotypical popular girl Amber Von Tussle (Travis Gaudin)- who is datingCorny Collins Show star and Tracy Turnblad love interest Link Larkin (Travis Gaudin). Got all that?
Stealing the show, without a doubt, is the combination of Hooper and his onstage little sister, Little Inez (Helena Laing). Separately, they are no doubt two impressive triple threats, and together, their chemistry is even better. Laing’s vocals and Hooper’s charisma were two highlights of the entire event. The audience favorite came in the form of Motormouth Maybelle (Jacqui Cross) the mother of Seaweed and Inez who helps Tracy lead Baltimore to integration. Her rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been” literally stopped the show- for a near minute of applause.
A must mention duo, Scott Shipman and Craig McKerley, who played Edna and Wilbur Turnblad, respectively, didn’t go without their share of spotlight stealing, either. The always popular “You’re Timeless to Me,” was musical gold. The chemistry Shipman has with McKerley, Bagdon, and entire cast is unparalleled. He could probably do a successful scene with a brick wall- his humor and charisma carry him throughout the show.
The show’s weak points, few and far between as they were, fell in the acting. There were often times where, when the actors didn’t get the audience reaction they wanted, held a pause anyway, waiting for the laugh or applause or whatever they were expecting. Granted, at times it seemed more for comic effect, but it slowed the pace a bit and looked awkward to those unaware of what was supposed to be happening. The weak spots were easy to forget, however, with the overall high energy that carried throughout the show. Reminiscent of the original stay show, Karen Olson and David Ponton’s choreography was a familiar treat. My favorite production element, however, were the costumes. Carl Booker did an excellent job of turning the Zilker Hillside Theatre into the bright, vibrant, and fun world of the 1960s.
However, the cast, set, choreography, and costumes all come together with the perfect amount of theatre magic to make you forget you’re sitting in the grass, being eaten by bugs, in the middle of Texas summer. And yes, for this show, I’d do it again.
Hairspray runs at the Zilker Hillside Theatre Thursday- Sunday at 8:15 PM thru August 15. More information can be found here: http://zilker.org/hairspray/