EHS Thespians Stage New Grand Musical

Courtesy photo Cienna Johnson as Tracy Turnblad and Nicolette DeLong-Silva as Penny Pingleton.

The Encinal High Drama Department is currently presenting the mega opus extravaganza: Hairspray.

Based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name, this musical is ostensibly centered on 1960s-style dance music and “downtown” rhythm and blues; but don’t be fooled.

The music and dancing takes place on the “Corny Collins Show,” a diminutive version of “American Bandstand,” but with an audience of thousands, not the millions that Dick Clark enjoyed.

The curtain rises to reveal Tracy Turnblad, preparing to face another day of attempting to fit into the socially regimented high school milieu.

Tracy is delightfully played by Cienna Johnson, who not only captures the core of her character, but she goes on to capture the entire stage, the audience, the refreshment stand and the ticket booth.

Cienna’s first song is “Good Morning, Baltimore,” which she delivers with an exuberant buoyancy that could absolutely lift the Titanic; her voice traverses a tonal range extending from a preadolescence Annie innocence, to a Cyndi Lauper to coquettishness and on to the resonating quality of a young professionally trained vocalist.

By the end of the first song, Tracy has presaged the upbeat spirit and socio-political idealism of the entire show.

Zach Bailey and Tsz Yau Wong play Tracy’s parents; they are endearing particularly when they perform an over-the-top Pas de Deux; they earn a spontaneous applause from an enchanted and highly appreciative audience.

Corny Collins, as played to the max by Lucas Bovoso, is as lubricious as the best game show host; his hair is pomaded into a hair helmet rivalling Dick Clark’s; his coif is hurricane proof and his character is positively unflappable even while the police are raiding his studio; Lucas is a closet liberal who knows how to hover over the fray and promote social justice while looking hip.

Anyone over the age of 50 is going to enjoy the dance scenes which include authentic snippets of the Twist, the Paw-Paw, the Dirty Dog, the Frug and the Jitter Bug; choreographer Amy Moorhead has clearly done her dance history homework dredging up a montage of dance-floor Americana.

There are no small parts in theater and Hank Whittaker proves it taking the role of the pompous, bombastic Harriman F. Spritzer and expanding it into a hilarious parody of man who has invested his life and soul into a can of aerosol hair lacquer.

Ask anyone over the age of 50 who once slow danced with one of those varnished bee-hive hairdos and he will remember the derma-abrasion that the shellac delivered to his face and ears.

Nikki Delong is absolutely delightful as Penny Pingleton; a girl who is helplessly trapped somewhere between adolescence, protracted adolescence and her domineering mother, Prudy Pingleton.

Every movie or play has a few truly memorable lines, and Prudy, played to the hilarious hilt by Sarah Russell gets to deliver nearly all of them, “Colored people in the house? I’ll never sell it now!” and

“Why is it that the phone always rings just when you’re tying up your daughter?” Sarah is an absolute scream.

John Waters did not intend the show to rest on the shoulders of a liberal white girl and her family; his design called for two pillars of the show; the first is Tracy and the second is Motormouth Maybelle.

While Tracy has spirit, Motormouth has soul.

Search the corridors of Encinal and you will not find a better choice for Maybelle than Jayla Velasquez; disconnect the sound system, Jayla is coming through with or without a lavaliere mic; this young lady has the voice and the volume; she simply sings beautifully.

When Jayla sings “I Know Where I’ve Been” she crystalizes the theme of the show; its historical perspective is brought into sharp focus.

While most of America was just waking up from the Eisenhower doldrums in 1962, hopefully proud that African Americans, thanks to Rosa Parks, were sitting where ever they wanted on the bus and, thanks to Birmingham boycotts were being served at department store lunch counters, “I Know Where I’ve Been” reminds the audience that America in 1962 still had a long, long way to go.

Emma Finn is a sensation as Velma Von Tussle, the villainous producer of the Corny Show who does everything in her power to further her daughter’s career and destroy Tracy’s and Corny’s.

While no one should accuse Emma of over-baking her Velma, she does come close to setting off the smoke alarm; she is positively a hoot: she is fire and ice packaged in one slinky Prada dress.

Best supporting roles include the bright eyed Lizzy Duncan as the Beatnik Chick and Dylan Tonningsen as Dave, the muscular guy in the very tight fitting T-shirt.

Darryl Willians, as Sea Weed, does some amazing acrobatic dance numbers.

Much, much to her credit, Julia Moeurn, as Little Inez, courageously leads the entire ensemble during “Run and Tell That,” a most endearing scene.

Director Bob Moorhead has worked a minor miracle bundling this much exuberance and talent into one show; it should not be missed.

Hairspray continues March 20, 21 and 22 at the Encinal gymnasium; the curtain goes up at 7:30 p.m.
 

Jeffrey R Smith is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.