Review : 'Hairspray' by Connecticut Theatre Company

Nancy Sasso Janis

The Connecticut Theatre Company performs at The Repertory Theatre on Norden Street in New Britain, a surprisingly large theater in the middle of a residential neighborhood. I found a spot to park on a street around the corner from the venue to attend a performance of their second production of their second season, 'Hairspray.'

'Hairspray,' with a book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan and music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Mr. Shaiman and Scott Wittman, tells the story of the bubbly Tracy Turnblad and her quest to integrate a television dance show in the sixties. Erin Campbell, president of the company and the show's personable director, calls the cast fantastic and even that is a bit of an understatement. The director cast this show with a touch of "age blindness," meaning that the youth of an actor did not dissuade her from including them in the cast, and it worked well. Ms. Campbell provided very sure direction to them all and choreographer Kristen Norris and her assistant Jess Bartolotta made the dancing a highlight of the show.
Johanna Regan played the role of Tracy to the hilt. This talented singer, actress and dancer makes her CTC debut in a big, bubbly way. From the minute she pops out of upright bed, her Tracy shines every minute she is on stage and makes the audience root for her throughout. This is truly a young actress to watch.
The other members of the large cast do everything they can to make this production look it's best. Young Ryan Adams played all the male authority figure roles and Jodi Dickson played was the female version. Rob Crumb (Mary Sunshine in 'Chicago') was a riot at Wilbur Turnblad. Sixteen year old Rachel Dufresne (Kendra in Seven Angels' '13') was adorably hateful as Amber Von Tussle and Elizabeth Shapiro sang extremely well as the equally mean Velma Von Tussle.

Photo by Connecticut Theatre Company

Photo by Connecticut Theatre Company

Garth West reprised the role of Seaweed J. Stubbs that he had played with the Bridgeport Theater Company and was a natural. Matthew Edgar-Joseph, a senior at CCSU studying acting, was smooth as Corny Collins and the multi-talented Stephen Michelsson (Billy Flynn in 'Chicago') showed off his amazing dancing in the role of the heartthrob Link Larkin.
"Welcome to the Sixties" to all the girls and specifically all three of the Dynamites (Iesha Moore Rose, Tiffany Vinters and Renee J. Sutherland) who looked amazing in red. The guys in the cast, Patrick Beebe (IQ,) Shailen Braun (Brad,) David O'Neill (Sketch,) Omar Peele (Gilbert,) Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts student Michael Ruby (Fender,) and Steffon Sampson (Stooie,) all performed well. Seven year old Jaylinn Naajam, already a  veteran of the St. Thomas Passion Play in Southington, had a cameo as an adorable Shirley Temple and knew a lot of the chorus choreography. They truly were "The Nicest Kids in Town."
Seriously in danger of stealing the show were Southington HS sophomore Rachel Huff as Little Inez, Chelsea Kelle as Penny Pingleton and Melanie Serkosky as a svelte Motormouth Maybelle who could sing up a storm.
In the role of Tracy's mom Edna was Duane Campbell, the company's Education Connection Coordinator. Had it not stated in the program that this was Mr. Campbell's acting debut at CTC, I would never have guessed. He was a "timeless" Mrs. Turnblad, despite one tiny wardrobe glitch. Kudos to him on an admirable debut.
Nathaniel Baker was Musical Director and presumably directed the small onstage (and uncredited in the program) band. Michael J. Bane designed the smallish set and Marissa Michaels designed the effective lighting. Pat O'Neill designed the impressive sixties costumes, with Mr. Campbell's tent dresses the most impressive. Wigs by "Melissa and Margie," (as the director referred to them during her curtain announcements) were for the most part flattering.
I recommend this high energy production as one of the best 'Hairspray' productions I have ever witnessed.