×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Hairspray

There's plenty of spritz left in the can at "Hairspray," the endlessly jubilant musical about a Baltimore teen who fights bigotry with her big hair and bigger heart. The Neil Simon will need new carpeting soon, so insistently do toes continue to tap along with this bouncing beach ball of a musical.

There’s plenty of spritz left in the can at “Hairspray,” the endlessly jubilant musical about a Baltimore teen who fights bigotry with her big hair and bigger heart. The show is approaching its second anniversary on Broadway, with new performers in most of the principal roles. It probably would be impossible to re-create the magical symbiosis of the show’s entirely adorable original cast — an ensemble so perfectly attuned to their roles and each other that they swept the audience into an intoxicating communal embrace. But the material itself seems to contain some sort of mood-boosting elixir, and the new cast delivers the show’s high spirits with infectious exuberance. The Neil Simon will need new carpeting soon, so insistently do toes continue to tap along with this bouncing beach ball of a musical.

Carly Jibson is dizzyingly hyperactive as the zaftig but zesty Tracy Turnblad, who refuses to let a few extra pounds get in the way of her dream career as a sock-hop dynamo. This new Tracy has the brisk determination of a baby bulldozer, winning the heart of budding heartthrob Link Larkin less through goodness and warmth than firm force of will.

Jibson’s dancing is wild and idiosyncratic — at times she looks like she might spin right offstage from a sheer surfeit of spunkiness — but her singing is supple and expressive. She can blast out that bright nasal bleat that is Tracy’s signature sound, but also adds sweet soulful flourishes to her big ballads.

Richard H. Blake, the new Link, is suitably dreamy and swivel-hipped as the object of Tracy’s obsession; “I Can Hear the Bells,” the fantasy ballet in which Tracy seduces and weds Link to the sound of rhythmic chiming, is performed with winking brio and remains a comic highlight of the first act.

Tracy and Link’s allies in their plan to integrate the local televised dance hop, “The Corny Collins Show,” also are newcomers: Jennifer Gambatese is a softer-edged but still adorably dim Penny Pingleton, who is transformed instantly from gawky hanger-on to white soul sister under the seductive tutelage of Seaweed J. Stubbs, danced with exciting buoyancy by Chester Gregory II — who has a pleasingly natural comic flair, too. Newcomers Barbara Walsh and Tracy Jai Edwards are vividly hissable as the conniving Velma and Amber Von Tussle.

But there are some old friends onstage, too: Dick Latessa remains a paragon of easygoing charm as Tracy’s pop, Wibur; Mary Bond Davis is singing with perhaps even greater glossy richness as Motormouth Maybelle; and the irrepressible Jackie Hoffman continues to season the proceedings with her hilariously loopy shtick in a trio of small roles.

And yet the new-formula “Hairspray” isn’t an exact replica of the first, and there’s one key respect in which, to continue the metaphor, the hold isn’t quite as firm. Michael McKean, best known for his years as Lenny on “Laverne and Shirley” and more recent turns in “This Is Spinal Tap” and Christopher Guest movies, bravely undertakes the role of Edna Turnblad, immortalized on film by Divine and onstage by Harvey Fierstein.

In his Broadway debut, McKean gives a persuasive, effective performance, but it simply doesn’t have the heft — or the heart — of Fierstein’s. Despite ample padding, he somehow cuts a smaller figure in Edna’s voluminous muu-muus. He doesn’t always land the laughs with the sly panache that was second nature to Fierstein, or embody the role with the amusing sense of benevolent entitlement that Fierstein did. Who could?

The show’s producers and creative team made clear that they weren’t looking for drag queens to take over the role. But call them what you will, Divine and Fierstein were both, to put it another way, very much at home in a muu-muu.

Good drag performing isn’t just a matter of putting a fine actor in a dress; it’s a specialized art unto itself. McKean is certainly a versatile comic, but missing from his performance is that mildly infatuated delight in the trappings of faux-femininity that is a key ingredient in all great drag performances.

But even this mild disappointment doesn’t prove to be a serious, er, drag on the evening. “Hairspray” is an uncommonly well put-together musical, with David Rockewell’s pop-up book sets and William Ivey Long’s colorful costumes providing the eye-pleasing gloss for director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell’s endlessly locomotive production. Providing the gas is the delectable R&B-based score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, every bit as intoxicating as it was the first time around.

The musical is a jukebox with no B-sides: Push any button and a little bit of joy comes spinning out.

Hairspray

Neil Simon Theater; 1,428 seats; $100 top

More Legit

  • Signature Theatre Celebrates Millionth Subsidized Ticket

    Signature Theatre Offers $35 Subsidized Tickets, Celebrates Millionth Sold

    Just the other night, a Manhattan cab driver told Signature Theatre executive director Harold Wolpert that he couldn’t afford to take his girlfriend to a show. In response, Wolpert motioned to his theater, saying that they offer $35 subsidized tickets. The driver said he’d try it out. “It was a great moment,” Wolpert said. “We’re [...]

  • SOCRATES The Public Theater

    Tim Blake Nelson Waxes Philosophical on Writing a Play About Socrates

    Despite Tim Blake Nelson’s knack for playing folksy characters in films such as “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” in his soul lurks the heart of a classicist. Nelson, who stars in HBO’s “Watchmen” series this fall, has also penned the play “Socrates,” now running at New York’s Public Theater through June 2. Doug Hughes directs, [...]

  • TodayTix - Brian Fenty

    TodayTix Banks $73 Million to Boost Theater and Arts Ticketing App

    TodayTix, a Broadway-born mobile ticketing start-up, is looking to expand into a bigger global media and transaction enterprise with a capital infusion of $73 million led by private-equity firm Great Hill Partners. The investment brings TodayTix’s total capital raised to over $100 million, according to CEO and co-founder Brian Fenty. Part of the new funding [...]

  • Ethan Hawke, Bobby Cannavale and Griffin

    BAM Gala Marks Leadership Change, Celebrates Brooklyn as 'Cultural Center of New York'

    Wednesday’s annual gala celebrating the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) served as a poignant moment of transition for the New York stalwart of contemporary performance. As long-time artistic director Joe Melillo, who along with Harvey Lichtenstein transformed BAM into a vanguard of progressive art, prepares to pass the torch to new leadership, gathered patrons and [...]

  • Tootsie Santino Fontana

    Listen: Santino Fontana on How Broadway's 'Tootsie' Was Adapted for Our Times

    Broadway’s “Tootsie” has turned into one of this season’s Tony Awards frontrunners, winning raves for its deftly funny update of potentially problematic source material — and for a firecracker cast led by Tony nominee Santino Fontana (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Frozen”), who makes his character’s transformation, from difficult actor Michael Dorsey to female alter ego Dorothy Michaels, [...]

  • Death of a Salesman review

    London Theater Review: 'Death of a Salesman'

    August Wilson famously disavowed the idea of an all-black “Death of a Salesman.” In 1996, he declared any such staging “an assault on our presence and our difficult but honorable history in America.” Arthur Miller’s antihero is no everyman, Wilson implied; Willy Loman is very specifically white. Critic John Lahr was inclined to agree: “To [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content