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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 28, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 26
It's true - you can't stop the beat!
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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It's true - you can't stop the beat!

Hairspray concert was a fitting 10th anniversary tribute

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

HAIRSPRAY IN CONCERT
5th AVENUE THEATRE
Closed June 23


The 5th Avenue Theater is celebrating a milestone - and what a milestone it is! It's been a decade since they produced and debuted the highly acclaimed musical version of Hairspray, and it's been a successful one at that. To mark the occasion, the 5th teamed up with the Seattle Men's Chorus to put on a limited-run concert version of the musical. Assembling a stellar cast and then adding members of the chorus, they have created a highly enjoyable performance.

The story of Hairspray is classic. Tracy Turnblad is a typical teenage girl living in Baltimore in 1962. Like most of her peers, she is obsessed with local TV celebrity Corny Collins' dance show and its lead boy, Link Larkin. Tracy is a modest girl who is shunned by her snobbish peers because of her size, talent, and progressive thinking. Set against the backdrop of the city's debate on racial integration, Tracy and her friends dance their way to triumph over their oppressors, launching mixed-race dancing in Baltimore.

The cast of Hairspray in Concert consisted of excellent actors, great voices, and wonderful performances. Each of the leading characters shone and excelled their roles - bar none. Kat Ramsburg was Tracy, the large girl with an even larger heart. Ramsburg embraced the adorable role, showing the character's eagerness and determination, with just the right 'squeak' in her singing voice. Eric Polani Jensen played the repressed housewife-turned-activist Edna Turnblad, proving his larger stage talents with every move. Bringing out the extreme frumpiness of the character so very well only made her transformation that much more evident. Eric's voice was perfect for the housewife role and his stage persona definitely brought this important character to life.

PERFECT PENNY
Tracy's sidekick Penny Pingleton was played by the incomparable Kirsten deLohr Helland. Kirsten should be arrested for scene-stealing because her performance of Pingleton was positively perfection! The simplest of gestures while watching her friend Tracy dance, or the expressiveness of a look at what's happening around her was so completely definitive that this character instantly became alive and someone with whom we can all identify. And it is Penny's transformation from geeky girl to vixen that allowed us, the audience, to see that her beauty matches the deeply rooted talent she possesses.

Providing strong vocals during the choruses of the songs, approximately 150 members of the Seattle Men's Chorus (whose total membership numbers about 350) sang as they stood in the background providing living, colorful wallpaper. There is no doubting the impressive quality of singing that the SMC provides when they unite their voices as one. Their presence on stage definitely brings a strong persona to anything they do. But while the 'Choral-ography' (the synchronized movements of the chorus members) was cute at first, it quickly became cutesy and distracting from the actors' performances. In the song 'I Can Hear the Bells,' the choral-ography had a few scattered members of the chorus pulling out a single bell and using it appropriately. It was presented well and complimented the song at hand. But the 'shoop-shoop' movements and consistent 'jazz hands' of other numbers pulled the eye's focus in several directions at once, competing for attention with the actors. The SMC would have done better to present themselves as a stage chorus in the more traditional sense, showcasing their greatest strengths - the united voices and the clear harmonies they do so well.

TOTALLY JINKXED
But the star performer of this concert presentation was very evident from the overwhelming applause, cheers, hoots and hollering she received by simply walking on stage. The night clearly belonged to Ms. Jinkx (Jerick Hoffer) Monsoon. Using her talents of 'shtick,' Monsoon embraced the role of uptight TV producer Velma Von Tussle and ran with it. Quite familiar and comfortable with drag (currently the crowned winner of RuPaul's Drag Race), Monsoon's voice and embodiment of the character was perfect. The quirkiness that seems to come so naturally to Hoffer, Monsoon amplified and used to best advantage and fullest audience enjoyment.

Other leading characters should definitely be mentioned. Heath Saunders as Seaweed J. Stubbs was wonderful and moved about the stage with an easy grace. Cynthia Jones as Motormouth Mabel brought a strong, soulful sound to her 11 o'clock number, 'I Know Where I've Been.' Louis Hobson as Corny Collins and Jessica Skerritt as Amber Von Tussle both added their own styles to their characters, giving them personal and stage presence charm. As stated before, each of the main leads (and those not mentioned here - no slight intended) were all very good and their voices were highly enjoyable.

ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
A 'concert version' of a musical is one with limited or no scenery and limited or no costumes, and the performers are permitted to use their scripts on stage if needed. The actors walk through the performance as if it were a final rehearsal rather than a fully launched presentation. This style is best utilized for cutting costs while still presenting quality stage works to the public.

Hairspray, the musical, made its theatrical debut at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theater in 2002. Based on the 1988 John Waters cult film of the same name, the musical opened on Broadway on July 18, 2002, where it ran for six and a half years. Playing for over 2,600 performances, it was nominated for 13 Tony Awards and won eight, including Best Actor (Harvey Fierstein), Best Actress (Marissa Jaret Winokur), and Best Musical of 2003.

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