The sometimes-staid atmosphere of the Hilbert Circle Theatre was considerably enlivened Saturday by an explosion of exuberant songs and dances emanating from the colorful “Hairspray: In Concert!”, presented by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, led by Principal Pops Conductor Jack Everly.
The concert featured not only a cast of top Broadway, film and television performers, but also John Waters as its major attraction, who starred as the show’s narrator. Waters wrote and directed the 1988 film "Hairspray" that the 2005 Broadway musical and the 2007 film version were based on.
Waters’ participation in the concert was a major coup for Everly and the executive producers, Ty Johnson and Matt Spivey, who will again present the concert in collaboration with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (where Everly also serves as Pops conductor), Jan. 24–27, 2013. Baltimore also happens to be Waters’ hometown and the setting for “Hairspray” and several of his other films.
The filmmaker, who was dressed in a fiery red tuxedo, appeared periodically during the concert and stood at a podium near the edge of the stage, from where he introduced characters, set up scenes and provided commentary regarding how he came up with the story and its plot. One important fact he shared was that it was never his intention to make a film that would become such a commercial success, much less someday morph into a symphony concert version.
Waters, who proved to be a poised performer, employed an amusing deadpan delivery as he retold his story — set in the ‘60s — about Tracy Turnblad, the vivacious, chubby teenager who dreams of becoming a regular on a Baltimore TV dance program named the “The Corny Collins Show.” Eventually, however, Tracy finds herself pursuing a much higher purpose after she decides to integrate the show — an effort which results in turmoil for a community that is beset with racial tension.
Tracy’s shy, plus-size mother, Edna, who suffers from poor esteem, was played by Paul Vogt, who effectively reprised a role he once performed on Broadway after he replaced Harvey Fierstein (the creator of the musical role).
Starring as Edna’s supportive, good-naturedly goofy husband, Wilbur, was former Monkees band member Micky Dolenz, who performed with the kind of seasoned ease expected of someone who has been in show business since the age of 10.
While dancing during “(You’re) Timeless to Me,” the pair showed comic chemistry, cracking up the audience when Vogt responded to Dolenz’s embrace with hilarious ad-lib comments.
Beth Leavel, as Velma Von Tussle, the despicable, mean-spirited producer of “The Corny Collins Show,” was larger-than-life as her powerhouse voice filled the Hilbert all the way up to the top balcony during “(The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs” and “Velma’s Revenge.”
Also showing vocal power was Natasha Yvette Williams in a charismatic performance, as Motormouth Maybelle, the host of "Negro Day," on "The Corny Collins Show."
Equally appealing was Marcus Terrell as Motormouth's fearless son, Seaweed J. Stubbs, who follows his heart and pursues a taboo love affair with Tracy's ditzy best friend, Penny Pengleton (Julie Kavanagh), a white girl with a racist mother.
Marissa Perry played Tracy, a role she recreated after having played it on Broadway. She was stellar as the colorblind, optimistic teenager and unwitting activist who shakes up the Baltimore establishment when she decides to right what she sees is an obvious wrong.
Perry shone along with Nick Adams, as Link Larkin, and the immensely talented company in rollicking production numbers, including “Good Morning Baltimore,” “I Can Hear the Bells” and others — all expertly choreographed by Jennifer Ladner.
Causing a sensation was the trio (The Divas of Song) of Natalie Renee, Nikki Stephenson and Melissa VanPelt, who played a girl group, The Dynamites, and raised the roof in “Welcome to the ‘60s.”
Though this concert version of “Hairspray,” directed by David Levy, had all the elements of the musical (except for sets), it was thoroughly enhanced by Clare Henkel’s campy costumes, Laura Glover’s lighting design and the lush and sprightly sounds produced by the ISO that faithfully interpreted composer Marc Shaiman’s joyous musical score.
Providing a large choral presence for the concert were singers from North Central High School and Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School, under the direction of Greg Sanders, who oversaw the vocals for the entire production.
The concert’s riotous finale, in which the entire cast performed “Without Love,” was a spectacular, confetti-strewn conclusion to a singular musical event that will be long remembered for its dynamism and its timeless message championing self-love and equality.
For tickets and information about upcoming Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra 2012-2013 season concerts, call the Hilbert Circle Theatre box office at (317) 639-4300 or visit www.indianapolissymphony.org.
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