What Would OSF Do? Hairspray Goes Big at Oregon Shakespeare Festival on Opening Night
Two standing ovations and buckets of sequins; what’s not to love about Hairspray at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF)? Opening night brought a big crowd, big hair, a big cast and an over-the-top production that delighted the audience and showcased the incredible range of talent that OSF offers. The Broadway musical depicts the story of a Baltimore teenager, Tracy Turnblad, who may be vertically-challenged, but her hair and ideas certainly are not. She knows what it is like to be teased on all levels and comes from a family that values working hard and living life to the fullest.
Tracy also loves to dance. When an opportunity arises to audition for the Corny Collins show (a live television dance show that features a “Negro Day”), she goes for it. What follows is a toe-tapping, hip-shaking, rump-bumping musical of inclusion set in the 60s addressing segregation and marginalization. And since it is OSF, the sets, timing and costumes are so in synch that one can fully integrate and lose oneself in the illusion only to pop out two and a half hours later transformed by the whole thing.
Katy Geraghty, who plays Tracy Turnblad, offers true comedic genius. Her moves, expressions, physical comedy and exaggerated lust for Link (lead dancer on the Corny Collins show) were bigger than her hair and made the show supremely entertaining. Greta Oglesby brought the house to their feet with her voice and portrayal of Motormouth Maybelle. Talk about integration! There were actors and actresses with multiple abilities, a beautiful young actress, Tatem Beach, playing Inez, all shapes and sizes and a stand-out male actor, Daniel T. Parker, who even convinced my teenage son attending with me that he was a woman! And kudos to Brent Hinkley who portrays five equally convincing characters. Not to mention that Leanne A. Smith, playing Amber Von Tussle, has a face quiver that can be seen by even back rows.
Christopher Liam Moore, Director says, “Hairspray is a show that foregrounds inclusivity, that acknowledges and celebrates difference, that insists on acceptance and equality, that makes joy—the rarest of qualities in today’s world—the delicious air we breathe.” Act One brings twelve tasty musical numbers like “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” and “Run and Tell That!” What stood out for me in the first half was how I fell in love with all characters and could not imagine any other actors acting in any other way to bring this show to life, especially the lovable young man in the wheelchair. The second half contains nine equally energetic musical numbers with “I Know Where I’ve Been” bringing tears and cheers from the audience. But the last number, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” is a sequined explosion that blew me away.
As my son and I walked back to our car, I overheard several theatrical patrons commenting on the production with statements like, “That last number was amazing!” and in response to the question, “How did you like the production?” one woman said, “What’s not to like!”
I have thought before how unfortunate it is that life cannot simulate a musical with people laughing, dancing, singing and working through their issues together. So, next time someone annoys you with their habits, appearance, or seems different and scary, ask yourself, what would OSF do? I would say that Moore’s 2019 production of Hairspray is worth its weight in gold sequins and that no humans were harmed by aerosol spray cans at opening night.
Hairspray—The Broadway Musical
1:30 and 8 pm, through October 27
Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Angus Bowmer Theatre, 15 S. Pioneer Street, Ashland.
$36 – $155.