OREM — About ten seconds into the opening number of Hairspray, the entire cast rushes the stage to create the hustle and bustle of 1960’s Baltimore, and when they do, it is an awesome sight! Forty-nine cast members of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages come together impassioned and enthused, showing us what community and theater is all about.
Hairspray is a musical comedy that centers around Tracy Turnblad, a big teen with a big heart living in a time and place where being different is unacceptable, but change is just on the horizon. Like every teenager, Tracy just wants to fit in, but finds true happiness in embracing what makes us different. The 2002 musical is based on a movie directed by John Waters in 1988 and was later adapted into a movie-musical in 2007. It features music written in the style of 1960’s pop music and is filled with high-energy dance numbers that put a smile on our faces.
Director Shawn Mortensen’s production at the SCERA completely embodies the spirit of Hairspray, and is appropriate for all ages. The energy and enthusiasm that the entire cast brings to the stage can be felt by everyone in the theater. All of the leads provide solid, great performances; however, there are a few who really excel. Heather Burgess is wonderful as Tracy Turnblad, as is Eric Harper as her eccentric mother, Edna Turnblad. Eric is careful not to play the character too exaggerated which makes her seem real and truly loveable. Elijah Thomas is an absolute stand-out and steals the show as Seaweed J. Stubbs with his soulful voice and smooth-crazy dance moves. As fun as the show is, the real high point comes when all the ‘camp’ and zaniness of the show is suspended, and Tierra Jean as Motormouth Maybelle stops the show cold as she and the cast sing “I Know Where I’ve Been,” hitting home the importance of community and diversity.
Of course, the sense of community doesn’t only come through the cast; there are many others working to make this show the spectacle that it is. The set, designed by Teri Griffin, thoughtfully provides us with a backdrop of Baltimore with brand names and iconic images of the era. It is beautifully executed with no shortage of glitter by the SCERA’s scene shop. The costumes, designed by Kelsey Seaver and Deborah Bowman, are also impressive and essential to making this era come to life. Each cast member has multiple looks, which must make finding costumes for all forty-nine a Herculean feat. It’s hard to imagine that any thrift store in Utah County has any ’60s clothing left. Adding the final element of spectacle is the lighting, designed by James Larsen, transporting us in and out of reality and keeping the energy up with plenty of flash rope.
Though the show is very fun, it isn’t without its weak points. There are a few awkward scenes and transitions, occasional pitch problems, and some of the choreography lacks precision. These issues are easily overlooked and did not become a stumbling block in our enjoyment of the show at all. The beauty of this show is that the dance numbers are so close together and the cast is so fun to watch that in the end you can only think of how much fun you had.
We were privileged to see the show on opening night. As every conflict neatly concluded and the show came to an end, we felt a sense of community between the audience and performers. The show closed with “You Can’t Stop The Beat” (a marathon number if there ever was one) and viewers jumped to their feet to congratulate the performers and the production team for a job well done. This was community theater in the truest sense.