A sold-out Lied Center rocked to two-plus hours of nonstop singing and dancing Thursday night as an energetic cast of nearly 40 presented "Hairspray." Set in 1962 Baltimore, the show chronicled the rise and triumph of the dispossessed, a congeries of overweight/poor/nerdy/Jewish/black characters who come together for the chance to be on television in the "Miss Teen Hairspray" competition. Echoing actual sea-change in American society during the '60s, "Hairspray" also implied that rock 'n' roll - and television - were the catalysts that made it all possible.
The show's lead, Brooklyn Pulver as the pudgy Tracy Turnblad, tried gamely to overcome a sore throat but was replaced partway through the first act by understudy Sarah Roussos, who acquitted herself well in the role. In a first-rate touring cast, several members stood out. Alyssa Malgeri was charming as Tracy's gawky best friend Penny Pingleton, in pleated plaid jumper, bobbysox, saddle shoes and bubblegum, awkwardly trying to dance to R&B; with her new black friend Seaweed. But you could see it coming - in the final scene, she burst out of her cocoon into a shimmery fringed dress, frizzy hair, a raucous vocal and a sexy dance.
Tracy's plus-size mother Edna, played according to tradition by a male (Jerry O'Boyle), began as a quiet domestic figure, taking in washing and ironing, but grew throughout the show as her daughter's champion and ultimately as the champion of size acceptance, domestic harmony, and racial equality as well. Edna's husband Wilbur (Dan Ferretti) was well-played as a geeky Jewish novelty shop owner, hopelessly smitten with his wife's large charms, and their second-act duet, You're Timeless to Me," nearly stopped the show.
Crossing racial barriers, hardly a song-and-dance matter in the real Baltimore of 1962, seemed inevitable on the stage when the attraction for Penny was Seaweed, played by the talented and charismatic Christian White, whose limber-jointed dancing brought early cheers from the audience. And his mother Motormouth Maybelle (Angela Birchett) urged her fellow blacks and their new white friends to pursue integration, leading the company in a gospel-tinged anthem to this effort, "I Know Where I've Been." She also belted out a song in praise of big women, "Big, Blonde, and Beautiful," that had the audience cheering.
Constantine Rousouli was credible as the heartthrob Link Larkin, especially in an Elvis-y turn as he sang "It Takes Two." Jarrett Mallon did nicely as the lounge-lizardy emcee Corny Collins. The show's villains were fun, too: Arjana Andris as the repressed Prudy Pingleton, the gym teacher, and the jail matron; and the wicked impossibly blond mother-daughter team of Velma and Amber Von Tussle, played by Kristin Stewart and Pearl Thomas.
Timing was crisp throughout the show, as colorful set components were quickly whisked on and offstage from the wings or the flies. Costume changes ranged from the efficient to the phenomenal, such as an unbelievable 10-second costume/makeup/hair change for Edna at "Hefty's Hideaway." Production values were high, with an excellent sound system and a brilliant kaleidoscopic light background for several numbers. And the show gathered momentum and audience adulation throughout the evening, ending in a very vocal standing ovation.