It took a three-day Hollywood Bowl concert engagement to arrange it, but L.A. finally got a load of the Tony-winning performances of Marissa Jaret Winokur and Harvey Fierstein in “Hairspray,” and the two plus-size talents fit back into their roles like a familiar pair of pettipants. Doubling down as helmer, original choreographer Jerry Mitchell managed to recapture most of the excitement, and even some of the poignancy, of 2002’s semi-satirical, wholly lovable smash.
Highschooler Tracy Turnblad’s single-minded promotion of dance fever in 1962 Baltimore is the tuner’s engine, and Winokur’s wholehearted energy made it easy to believe she craved nothing more than to integrate a local TV sock hop at the side of heartthrob Link (Nick Jonas, his every appearance prompting audience screams a la the old “Ed Sullivan Show”).
As for Fierstein’s Edna – first ashamedly, then proudly 54 Triple E – she’s larger than life, which is to say perfectly scaled to the Bowl. Yet not a punch line or nuance was lost, showy costumes never overwhelming shrewd characterization.
It’s quite common for over-the-top villainesses like Susan Anton and Tara Macri to caterwaul and mug as if hoping to throttle the back rows. But only a consummate pro will wait for 17,376 folks to hush up before bringing the house down by thoughtfully musing, “I didn’t care for them.”
A brief but decided turn to the serious, in librettists Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s nod to the era’s racial divide, was taken care of by a near-definitive “I Know Where I’ve Been” from R’n’R Hall of Famer Darlene Love, who was plenty of places during the civil rights struggle and remembers them in her bones.
Meanwhile the chorus, seeded with “Hairspray” vets, shook, shimmied and boogaloo’d through Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s peerless score, suggesting how blessed we were when so-called “race music” became everyone’s music to herald a society of tolerance and mutual understanding. (That vision feels very good right about now.)
Music sensations Corbin Bleu and Diana DeGarmo offered a fiery Seaweed and Penny, and Drew Carey proved game as Edna’s affable hubby. The venue wasn’t always kind to the lyrics, but Lon Hoyt’s 14-piece orchestra made the most of Harold Wheeler’s orchestrations sitting on either side of original designer David Rockwell’s Chuck Jones-inspired, cartoon city street backdrop.
But the evening’s true surprise was Link’s real and touching transformation from sideliner to activist, in the hands of multitalented trouper Jonas, who knew when to step forward and when to recede into the ensemble. Truth be told, Winokur could easily be his mom, but the Bowl is forgiving of such matters and they pulled off a hot midsummer night’s dream under the August stars.