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Dreams come true with ‘Hairspray,’ now playing at PSCA

Photo courtesy Elly Osmera
Left to right are Sara Burks as Amber von Tussle, Luke Hefner as Link Larkin, Marion Bienvenue as Tracy Turnblad, Steven Sitzman as IQ in “Hairspray,” now playing at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts.

By George Rohrbacher
Special to The PREVIEW

The Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts showing of “Hairspray,” which plays through the end of August, has an international cast of 28. Based on the New Cinema film written and directed by John Walters, “Hairspray” is the winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

This family-friendly musical is piled high with laughter, dance and romance. “Hairspray” is set as the 1950s are eclipsing onto the ‘60s, as American culture is going through many major changeovers. The bone-tired, iron-willed Miss Rosa Parks had just made her indelible mark on American history. Soul music, rhythm and blues, and the dance crazes associated with them were taking the whole country by storm.

This new form of music was central to the afternoon teen dance shows that were also sweeping the national TV ratings charts. “Hairspray” is the story of Baltimore’s “Corny Collins Dance Show,” trying to ride the tidal wave of burgeoning white interest in black music onto national syndication.

“Hairspray” stars Marion Bienvenue as Tracy Turnblad, the ambitious star-struck, big-haired teen who dreams non-stop of appearing and performing on Baltimore’s teen dance TV show.

Rejected off-hand at the TV show audition for being far too large for the part by the blonde bomb-shell producer, played with great zest by Hanna Zilber, Tracy still won’t take no for an answer. Along the way she meets, Inez, a black girl rejected at the same audition for her race that Tracy was rejected for her size at.

Back at high school, Tracy’s big, teased hair has her on the wrong side of the high school principal’s attention. For blocking the other students’ view of the blackboard with her Jacki Kennedy-styled hairdo, Tracy gets sentenced to detention. There, in detention, she meets Inez’s brother, Seaweed (masterfully played by Sheldon Steele), a black student in Tracy’s high school who dances his way through detention, and all other problems of his life. Seaweed performs on the TV show, on the one day a month that’s designated: Negro Day.

Tracy suggests that the black dancers integrate the “Corney Collins Dance Show.” This wild suggestion is made at a dance party at the record shop in the ghetto run by Motormouth Maybell, Seaweed’s mom and a locally famous Baltimore black DJ, played by show-stopper Shuga Henry. Tracy’s best friend, Penny, finds Motormouth’s son, Seaweed, irresistible, adding to the plot loaded with racial conflicts the cast and audience must deal with.

Tracy, in addition to having body-size issues herself, has a super, super-sized mother, a loud laundry woman with dreams of being a plus-sized clothing designer. Tracy’s Mom is played with great distinction and comic effect by Dennis Elkins, the chairman of the theater department at Fort Lewis College in Durango.

And there is also Tracy’s super batty, high-stepping, joke-shop owning dad, played with boundless enthusiasm by Dan Morrison. Both Dennis and Dan are Thingamajig Theatre Company veterans, and in these two outrageous comedic roles, bouncing off one another, they shine at their best.

Luke Hefner, returning for his third summer of performing with the Thingamajig Theatre Company, plays Link Larkin, the TV dance show’s resident teen stud-muffin and love object for all female teenage TV dance show watchers over the entire Baltimore area.

Tracy, who has kissed Link’s image on her TV set in the living room of her home many a time, gets to meet Link in the flesh at her failed audition. Tracy is completely swept away by the experience of meeting Link. She hears the bells ringing. An impossible teen love affair between the teen dance show hopeful and dance show teen idol erupts, a flickering flame brewing amid the storm clouds of social conflict and change that darken and complicate both the national and local horizon.

In an attempt to integrate the “Corney Collins Dance Show,” Tracy and many others run up against the powers of the day, who aren’t above using mass arrests to keep the lid on. Link, Tracy’s love interest and teenage dance show stud-muffin boyfriend, has different ideas. He wants Tracy compete on TV for Miss Baltimore Hairspray 1962.

In America, dreams come true, if you dream them big enough.

In “Hairspray,” a great time is had by all, especially the audience. “Hairspray” is running this summer in rep with three other great Broadway musicals: “Sister Act,” “Adia” and “Big River,” all starring the same talented cast. Call 731-SHOW (7469) or visit www.pagosacenter.org for ticket information.

This story was posted on August 10, 2017.