OREM — Hairspray is a show that many people are familiar with, whether it be in movie form or from a stage production, and everyone seems to have an idea of how it ought to be. Hale Center Theatre Orem made it their own tonight and did what they could to give the audience a refreshing look at Hairspray the musical.
I’m always impressed by what The Hale is able to do with their small space. Hairspray was no exception. The scenic design, by Bobby Swenson, managed to fit a large cast, several locations, and this story into The Hale’s small black box space. Some might miss the large glitzy sets that might accompany this show but I found the little glitz and minimal set pieces refreshing. The audience could focus on the characters and the movement in a whole new way. The easy flow and pacing of the show in this space added to this new outlook on Hairspray as well.
Some of the actors stood out, not only because they made the well-known characters their own, but also because they simply gave delightful and energetic performances. Tracy Turnblad (Stephanie Southerland) redefined the role for me. Her comedic timing was unique and effective. Southerland connected with the audience during “I Can Hear the Bells” because she knew exactly where to land the comedy, but was a little less impressive during “Good Morning Baltimore” because she didn’t seem to put enough energy into her singing. I would have liked to hear her good vocals backed up with more power, but this was easily overlooked because of her fantastic comedy. Motormouth Maybelle (Tierra Jean) also gave a great performance due, in large part, to her phenomenal singing voice, which added a sense of beauty and power to this fun piece. Jean’s performance in “I Know Where I’ve Been” was powerful enough to move me and other audience members. Penny Pingleton (Aurora Florence) was—by far—the highlight character of the evening. She added a layer of strangeness that brought Penny out of nerd and into a true eccentric. This not only made her likeable, but hilarious, too.
Not everything about the show was as engaging as these great actors. There seemed to be an overall lack of feeling from the performance that I saw. Many of the actors in the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday cast that I saw were going through the motions and saying their lines but I was disengaged when the energy never reached the high level necessary for such a show. A few line flubs (for example, in an exchange between Edna and Mr. Pinky) and a couple technical issues with the projector, that alone would have been easily forgiven, seemed to add to the mediocrity.
The choreography, by Jenny Giauque-Tingey, was fun and the music was pleasant. It never ceased to make me wish that I were up on my feet dancing along. I did wonder though, if some of the movement got in the way of the singing. I wished, at times, that the actors would have been able to sing full voice instead of having so many out of breath moments that come with so much movement. Even with that downfall the choreography was executed well by almost all of the actors, specifically by Seaweed (Elijah Thomas) and the Dynamite Girls.
I was happy to see this show and all that director, Neal C. Johnson, did with it. It was refreshing to see new ideas and characterizations infused into the show. Even though the sinking energy was an issue, glimmering moments like “I Know where I’ve Been” and Florence’s zany bits kept this show afloat. It is moments like that will keep me coming back to the Orem Hale for many years to come.