I’ve seen some colorful spectacles cross the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse stage, but the finale of “Hairspray” may be the most meaningfully vibrant moment I’ve witnessed there yet.
The early ’60s-set musical mixes catchy pop tunes with an equally infectious message about inclusiveness. LenaMary Amato brings considerable charm and presence to the show as Tracy Turnblad, the slightly rotund, helmet-haired young Baltimore woman who wants to dance on “The Corny Collins Show.” She meets some resistance from her shut-in mother, Edna, who’s portrayed with great command and comic timing by Darryl Winslow. But after learning some moves from the slick Seaweed Stubbs (Jonathan Burke), Tracy wins the approval of Collins himself (Mathew Schwartz) and makes her TV debut.
Though she’s earned the spotlight she long dreamed about, Tracy still has much to fight for. She has eyes for the show’s hearthrob, Link Larkin (played with just the right balance of smugness and sweetness by Tim Quartier), and campaigns for the show to desegregate and allow black men and women to dance on the same stage as her. Both put her up against the show’s producer, Velma Von Tussle (Deborah Tranelli), and her daughter, Amber (Lauren Devine), as the former wants to keep “Corny Collins” segregated and the later wants to keep Larkin under her thumb.
In the role of Tracy’s awkward best friend, Penny Pingleton, Mary Claire King is a hilarious sight as she dances spastically out of sync with the rest of the ensemble. As Motormouth Maybelle, Karen Marie Richardson is a showstopper as she leads “I Know Where I’ve Been,” a slower number about the struggle black men and women have faced in America. As the only time the show treats desegregation in truly somber tones, it’s a powerful moment.
The mood is cheerier for the rest of the show, but no less poignant. As Tracy’s father, Wilbur, Brian Runbeck is a delightful jokester who lightens the tension of many a scene. His duet with Winslow, the tender “(You’re) Timeless to Me,” is one of several musical highlights, along with “Without Love” and “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now.”
A slight technical hiccup in the sound mix drowned out some of the lyrics under the weight of the show’s thudding drums, but the problem was all but fixed by the second act. Otherwise, “Hairspray” holds up superbly well.
Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at 282-2245 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @drwilcox.
If you go
When: Continues through July 20
Where: Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, Emerson Park, Route 38A, Owasco
Cost: Tickets $37-$43
Info: Call 255-1785 or visit www.merry-go-round.com