Last Thursday night I met a couple of friends at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre on the northwest side of Indianapolis to see “Hairspray.”
One of these two friends loves theatre almost as much as I do. The other is a more reluctant theatre-goer. This was my first time seeing this multiple-Tony Award winning musical but they had seen a Broadway touring production at the Murat Theatre a few years back. The man that had fallen asleep during “The Producers” another time did NOT fall asleep during “Hairspray” – in fact, he loved it – so we were all three looking forward to seeing it at Beef and Boards.
None of us fell asleep this time, either. It was a very enjoyable evening!
What the Show Is About
It is 1960s Baltimore. Vivacious hair hopper Tracy Turnblad (Jill Sullivan) at first seeks to both fit in and differentiate herself in the same ways that teens have always done and probably always will do: through hair and clothes, music and dancing, and rule-breaking.
However, her experiences with the “nicest kids in town” and others at auditions for the local dance TV show raise her consciousness about injustices that go beyond getting detention for cutting class or being rejected for being fat. She questions why “Negro Day” – the day when African-American teens can dance on TV on the Corny Collins Show – is only one day a month. With the help of her family plus old and new friends, she develops a plan to force integration of the show.
Along the way, she learns a lot about many different kinds of fear and prejudice, and many kinds of integrity.
I loved the abundance of layers of meaning and challenge that are teased together in this piece. It is “gay” in the old-fashioned sense of the word, meaning light-hearted, frothy, and irrepressibly optimistic, even naïve, but it also compassionately pokes fun at people’s assumptions about everything from size and race to marriage and second chances and more in ways that are ultimately as substantive and hard-to-ignore as ratted hair.
Don’t worry: I am not going to point out all of the layers of meaning that resonated with me and you don’t have to think deeply about the show at all if you don’t want to. You can just enjoy the surface silliness of the story and the characters, plus the fun, retro look of the set and costumes, and the exuberant singing and dancing. It is a satisfying evening of “just” entertainment and that is no small thing.
But the sticky layers are there if you want to run your mental fingers through them, and I love this.
As for this particular production, under Eddie Curry’s able direction Jill Sullivan gives Tracy an innocence that is endearing. In fact, I enjoyed the performances of everyone in the cast, which includes many strong, admirable singers.
However, I sat up straighter in my chair and thought, “Hey!” when Seaweed (Jarvis B. Manning Jr.) began to sing and dance his solo.
Seaweed is an African-American boy that Tracy meets in detention. They discover a mutual love of dancing and he invites her and her (white) friends over to his mama’s record shop after school. Tracy and her ditsy-sweet best friend, Penny (Carly Vernon), feel hip to have been invited to hang out with “colored people.” Seaweed just laughs because he knows from experience that not everyone feels that way, but he also acknowledges in song that he is proud of who he is.
(By the way, when I mentioned on Twitter that I was looking forward to seeing “Hairspray” one of my followers tweeted back that I should have fun and “run and tweet that!” I confess that I had no idea what she was talking about since I knew almost nothing about the show. But NOW I know that the song Seaweed sings is “Run and Tell That!”)
Jarvis B. Manning Jr. has a “wow” stage presence. Actually, so does the rest of his stage family. 11-year-old Lindsay Alissa Porter brings a dazzling, powerhouse voice to the role of Seaweed’s little sister, Little Inez, who joins him in singing “Run and Tell That.”
His mama is Motormouth Maybelle (Angela Birchett), the MC of “Negro Night.” She, too, has a core-shaking voice. Her inspiring rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been” had the audience cheering. I am glad that I paid $10.70 (including tax) for her CD after the show. It includes that song from “Hairspray” plus a nice mix of other Broadway songs, an Aretha Franklin song, and a sassy rendition of “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog” that I keep playing over and over again as I drive around town.
I also especially enjoyed the chemistry between Tracy’s quirky parents. Her mother, the large and, at first, depressed Edna Turnblad, is played in feisty drag by Dan Dowling, Jr. Her father, played by John Vessels, seems at first to be just a little joke of a man. However, both actors reveal hidden depths to their characters and their duet, “Timeless to Me,” is touching as well as funny.
And when Tracy fell for Link Larkin, one of the “nice kids” on the TV show, I knew just how she felt. Sam Weber as Link is duh-reamy.
This piece “about a teenager” has the kind of naïve yet irrepressible optimism that is so appealing in teenagers in general and provides the same gift that teenagers give the world in generation after generation: that of questioning the status quo and encouraging change where needed. Yet I wouldn’t limit its audience to teenagers. It is definitely first a show for adults.
Who Did What
The book for “Hairspray: The Broadway Musical” is by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan. Music by March Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman. It is based on the New Line Cinema film written and directed by John Waters. Orchestrations by Harold Wheeler and arrangements by Marc Shaiman.
Beef and Boards’ production was directed by Eddie Curry and choreographed by Ron Morgan. Musical direction by Terry Woods. Elizabeth Stark is stage manager. Scenic design by Michael Layton. Sound design by Daniel Hesselbrock. Light design by Ryan Koharchik. Costumes by Jill Kelly. Technical director Bill Mollencupp. Wig designs by Daniel Benslay.
Jill Sullivan is Tracy Turnblad. Dan Dowling, Jr. is Edna Turnblad. Carol Marty McNamee is Corny Collins. Angela Birchett is Motormouth Maybelle. Sam Weber is Link Larkin. John Vessels is Wilbur Turnblad. Julia Harkey is Amber Von Tussle. Carly Vernon is Penny Pingleton. Lindsay Alissa Porter is Little Inez. Teanna Berry, Shelese Franklin, and Gnomi Gre as the Dynamites.
The Beef and Boards Orchestra is conducted by Terry Woods, who also plays keyboard. The Orchestra also includes Kristy Templet on keyboard 2, Neil Broeker on woodwinds, Tim Kelly on percussion, David Coleson on trumpet, and Scott Balentine on guitar.
I forgot to check my server’s name at the bottom of the cocktails list this time, but she had waited on me before and, as always, did a good job. I think her name is Bobbie. Chef Odell Ward’s dinner buffet this time included “Bistro Bakers,” which are yummy little potatoes, and other tasty items.
On my way up to the buffet I overhead a woman telling her friend, “There are no bad seats here because after dinner they pull the stage out.” I think that how you experience a show at Beef and Boards differs greatly depending on where you sit, but I would agree that it will probably be a good experience no matter what.
You can see a map of the various seating options on the Beef and Boards website (www.beefandboards.com) and then make a reservation by calling the Box Office at 317-872-9664 between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and 10 a.m to 6 p.m. Mondays.
Also Running at Beef and Boards
If you are a regular reader of Indy Theatre Habit, you know that I don’t have time to review kids’ shows. However, if I did, I would love to see “Blue’s Clues Live: Blue’s Birthday Party.” This is the show that opened Beef and Boards’ 2011 Live Theatre for Kids series last weekend.
The first time I sent a postcard to my then-four-year-old godson, his mother told me that when he received it, he broke into the mailbox song from the “Blue’s Clues” TV show. He sang it for me the next time I saw him in person, and I have been curious about the whole “Blue’s Clues” world ever since.
From my media kit:
“Blue is getting ready to celebrate her birthday in this interactive show from Nickelodeon. Her friends Joe, Tickety Tock, Slippery Soap, Magenta and Periwinkle need help searching for clues to discover what Blue wants for her birthday.
This fun party is live on stage Feb. 12 through March 19 for the first time at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre. Children have the opportunity to meet the cast of ‘Blue’s Birthday Party’ after each show for pictures and autographs.
Pyramid Players productions are one hour in length and presented without intermission. Performances are for all ages, but offered particularly for children in preschool through sixth grade. All tickets are $12.50 and include a snack.
Performances take place at 10 a.m. on Fridays and at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturdays.
For reservations, contact the box office at 317-872-9664. Box office hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays. For information or show schedule, visit the theatre’s website, www.beefandboards.com.”
See you at the theatres!
(All photos above were taken by Julie Curry. Run your cursor, if you have one, over each photo to see the actors’ names.)