Candlelight’s “Hairspray” Over the top, lots of fun

Holly Quinn, Special to THE NEWS JOURNAL
There are lots of reasons to go see director Dann Dunn’s “Hairspray The Broadway Musical” at Candlelight this fall, but the most compelling is probably Janine Merolla in the leading role of Tracy Turnblad.

Merolla has graced the Candlelight stage in supporting roles before, but this time she’s front and center – and proving she belongs there.

“Hairspray,” based on John Waters’ campy 1988 retro flick of the same name, tells the story of Tracy, an early ’60s big-haired Baltimore teen who loves to dance. When a spot opens up for a regular dancer on the after-school dance program The Corny Collins Show, she auditions, despite being more “pleasantly plump” than the other dancers.

Her bubbly confidence launches her into local stardom, and she finds herself becoming an activist for social change. The show is full of nostalgia, but it doesn’t allow the audience to forget that beneath the facade of “a simpler time” was a lot of racism and segregation, not least of all on squeaky clean dance programs. One of the distinctive aspects of “Hairspray” is that the role of Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s mother, is traditionally played by a man in drag, an homage to the legendary drag queen Divine, who played Edna in the original film.

While the 2007 movie remake had John Travolta buried under an unsettling amount of facial prosthetics, Patrick O’Hara does it the classic way (plus some extra padding), showing his face while evolving from dowdy homebody to fame and fabulousness. It’s the kind of performance you just want to keep watching, which is just how Edna should be.

Also giving a standout performance is Franklin Anthony as Seaweed, Tracy’s friend from detention who happens to be the son of Motormouth Maybelle (an outstanding performance by Tiara Greene), who hosts the monthly “Negro Day” on the Corny Collins Show.

He, along with Victoria Healy as Tracy’s awkward best friend Penny, and Mikyah Mott as Seaweed’s sister little Inez play a big part in Tracy’s transformation from swooning schoolgirl to dance floor social activist, Standing in Tracy’s way are the memorable Velma Von Tussle, the show producer played by Kaylan Wetzel, and her spoiled daughter Amber Von Tussle, played by Colleen Murphy. They’re two of the great villains of the stage, complete with Velma’s evil laughter. “Hairspray” can be over-the-top at times – it’s rooted in camp, after all – but it’s also sincere and thought -provoking, and a huge amount of fun to watch.

Holly Quinn is a Wilmington freelance writer.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: “Hairspray” at The Candlelight Theatre
WHEN: Through Oct. 30
WHERE: The Candlelight Theatre, 2208 Millers Road, Ardentown
TICKETS: $59, $33 ages 4-12 (includes dinner buffet, cash bar available)
FOR TICKETS OR MORE INFORMATION: (302) 475-2313; www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org