Review: 'Hairspray' at Musicals at Richter

Nancy Sasso Janis

More than one venue has chosen to present the show that requires the purchase of multiple cans of hairspray this year. ‘Hairspray the Broadway Musical’ has a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman. The musical opened on Thursday as part of the 34th season at Musicals at Richter in Danbury, Connecticut’s longest running outdoor theater. Over 200 patrons filled the lawn on their opening night to watch the “nicest kids in town” sing and dance their way through the story of how Tracy Turnblad changed Baltimore.

 Matthew Farina is a MAR alum and is a first time director for what he calls this “high-energy, high- spirited, and high-haired musical comedy” that delivers a social message about acceptance and inclusiveness that is still relevant today. He call his first directing experience “fun, laughter-filled, and rewarding” and those qualities shone through in this fun production. Mr. Farina also did the impressive choreography and was recently nominated by the CT High School Musical Theater Awards for Outstanding Choreography for ‘In the Heights’ at   Immaculate High School in 2014..

 Katie Cummings was a charming and bubbly Tracy Turnblad; Ms. Cummings is a 2011 graduate of Newtown HS and is working toward her Masters at UCONN. Mike Armstrong as Edna and Ted Schwartz as Wilbur played Tracy’s loving parents and were so much fun to watch. Bobby Bria was his charming self as the handsome TV host Corny Collins. Connor Spain was good as heartthrob Link Larkin and Brooke Morris brought Tracy’s loyal best friend Penny to a new level. She was adorably geeky and very funny right up until her final scene transformation. 

Amber (Jessica Schwartz), Link (Connor Spain), Tracy (Katie Cummings), Seaweed (Ismael Santana) in 'Hairspray' 

Amber (Jessica Schwartz), Link (Connor Spain), Tracy (Katie Cummings), Seaweed (Ismael Santana) in 'Hairspray' 

 Stacy Basinger-Goodman could have been just a bit meaner in the challenging role of the judgemental producer Velma Von Tussle. Jessica Schwartz appeared once again with her dad Ted on the Richter stage as the mean girl Amber Von Tussle, but she was so adorable in her blonde wig that it was hard not to like her just a little bit. Ms. Schwartz will attend WCSU in the fall as a musical theatre major. 

 Ismael Santana was Seaweed and the dynamic Dynamites in sparkly red were played by Janina Gonzalez-Rosa and Jessica Paige. All of the many ensemble members danced beautifully with lots of energy. Akira Golz was a feisty Little Inez.

 The two scene stealers both played multiple roles so they had plenty of opportunities to do so. Ryan J. Taylor was equally as good as the high school principal, the beauty products executive, Mr. Pinky and the prison guard. Priscilla Squires sang her way through the role of the prison matron “In the Big Dollhouse,” was a riot as the gym teacher, but was at her comedic best as Penny’s overbearing mom Prudy. 

 Paul Feyer served as Music Director for the show and conducted the small orchestra. T  he period costumes from the Warner Costume Shop were complimented perfectly by the superb wigs by Lauren Nicole Sherwood. The set designed by committee was painted by scenic artist Konrad Wainwright and looked colorfully appropriate. 

'Hairspray' at MAR  David Henningsen Photography

'Hairspray' at MAR  David Henningsen Photography

 Next up at Musicals at Richter is ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ which runs July 24 - August 8. Summer Youth Musical Theatre Workshop performances will be 'Broadway Bound' July 13, 14, 15 and 'Peter Pan Jr.' August 13, 14, 15.