Musical: Hairspray

Group: The Black Rep

Venue: Edison Theatre, Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.

Dates: October 28, 29, 30

Tickets: From $10 to $30; contact 935-6543 or

Story: Tracy Turnblad isn't the best student in her Baltimore high school in 1962, but she may be the most enthusiastic, especially when it comes to the "Corny Collins Show." Collins hosts the local teen dance TV series that airs on one of Baltimore's three TV stations, including the monthly "Negro day" when black students are allowed on camera.

Tracy's parents, overly large Edna and eccentric Wilbur, just want what's best for their daughter. Tracy doesn't understand why every day can't be "Negro day," and so she undertakes a crusade to integrate the Collins show, which Collins himself welcomes. Not so, though, his producer, Velma von Tussle, who is determined to see her spoiled daughter Amber cart off the Miss Hairspray title supported by the show's sponsor. While Velma and Amber conspire to take that coveted trophy, Amber is having trouble holding onto her compliant boyfriend, Link, a handsome lad who inexplicably is becoming fond of the rotund Tracy.

Highlights: Ron Himes, founder and producing director of The Black Rep and Henry Hampton Jr. artist-in-residence at Washington University, directs a mostly student cast in this production that benefits from a highly stylish and impressive technical look that forgives the mundane performances by most of the cast. Himes shrewdly utilizes the capabilities of non-student players, including Johanna Elkhana-Hale as Tracy, Zachary Allen Farmer in drag as Edna (the way the role usually is cast) and J. Scott Matthews as Wilbur, to anchor the acting in the production.

Other Info: Elkhana-Hale has a fine voice and brings pizzazz to the part of the spirited Tracy, an important contribution since this presentation often falls flat in its delivery. Matthews obviously enjoys his role as the daffy Wilbur and makes the most of the humorous duet he shares with Farmer, You're Timeless to Me, one of the show's highlights in Act II. Farmer, a mainstay with New Line Theatre, is generally a fine performer but never appears comfortable in the part of the outspoken and ostentatious Edna.

Courtney Elaine Brown, despite a foot cast, moves quite adeptly as the villainous Velma in various dance scenes cleverly choreographed by Millie Garvey, and Megan Lacerenza has a humorous turn as Tracy's love-struck friend Penny. Marissa Barnathan plays the petulant Amber, Pete Winfrey portrays Link, Eric Newfeld is Corky, Ari Scott is Seaweed, Tracy's black friend and son of the town's legendary crooner, Motormouth Maybelle. The latter is played by Diamond Skinner, who doesn't approach the look of the hefty singer but brings plenty of sass to the part. Desiree Thomas nearly steals the show as Seaweed's limber and delightful sister Inez.

Technically, the show is a resounding triumph. Robert Morgan's imposing backdrop, ironically presented in black and white, is a symbolic representation of the Civil Rights era, while the stage floor is a more flamboyant depiction of the advent of the free-spirited ‘60s. Sean Savoie's pronounced lighting design brightly accentuates the production, while Sarita Fellows' costuming captures the narrow pants of the boys and exaggerated bouffant hairstyles of the girls as well as more ostentatious garb for Edna, Wilbur and Corky. Emily Frei has fun coming up with the silly props in Wilbur's Har de Har Hut and Tim Albert contributes the subtle sound design.

Music director and keyboardist Charles Creath leads a fine band that performs off stage right, including guitarist Craig Florez, Al Caldwell on bass, drummer Keith Fowler and horn player Kasimu Taylor.

Hairspray, with a book by Marc O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, arrangements by Shaiman and orchestrations by Harold Wheeler, is based on a film written and directed by John Waters. While its message is inspiring, the music is generally forgettable and the sillier aspects of the story wear thin after an initial viewing, leaving Hairspray as dated as other aerosol products.

Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.


Photos by David Kilper/WUSTL Photo Services