The excitement was palpable as a sold-out house anticipated the opening night curtain for Marathon Little Theatre Group’s production of the widely popular “Hairspray” on Saturday night. And the energy exuded by the intergenerational cast did not disappoint.
Despite a rash of recent illnesses that had several of the performers on vocal rest leading up to the first night, the enthusiasm of everyone on stage was undiminished. And though inclement weather toyed with many a rehearsal, the opening performance went off with nary a hitch.
With a witty book, clever lyrics and bouncy music, the show takes a generally lighthearted look behind the scenes of a racially segregated TV dance show in 1960s Baltimore.
The central figure is Tracy Turnblad, a rotund but nimble high schooler with a big voice and an even bigger hairdo, who sets the ball in motion to integrate the show and, in the end, finds validation for herself.
Community theater veteran Tanya Fiebert displayed the vocal power that has marked her performances since early childhood and imbued the role with the requisite determination.
As her mother, Frank Auriemma proved his versatility, once again, in a role that has traditionally been played by a male, most memorably by Harvey Fierstein in a Tony Award-winning performance.
Auriemma and Mark York, as Tracy’s understanding father, Wilbur, received one of the evening’s most generous rounds of applause following their performance of the delightful duet “You’re Timeless to Me.”
Shuga Henry, as Motor Mouth Maybelle, whose name says it all about the no-nonsense character who tends to speak in rhymes, was accorded an even more substantial ovation for her eleven o’clock gospel-inspired number, “I Know Where I’ve Been.”
But practically stealing the show were two teenage talents in supporting roles. Kate Brady totally embodied Tracy’s slow-witted friend Penny, remaining fully in character whether singing in a completely suitable nasal voice, dancing intentionally awkwardly or chewing gum as if her life depended upon it.
And Zach Bravo, as self-loving TV host Corny Collins, was absolutely riveting every time he appeared. Here’s a kid who can act, sing and dance up a storm ... a total natural. Assuming the role as a last-minute replacement, he was a major credit to the show.
Jen Silverman seemed to have a field day cast against type as Amber, the bad girl everyone loves to hate. Jill Ameri pushed too hard as her mother, Velma. Austin Auriemma didn’t quite click as teen idol Link Larkin. Keven Campbell was adequate as Maybelle’s son, Seaweed. Fourth-grader Julia Marshall scored a laugh on each of her lines as the wise-beyond-her-years Little Inez. Sandi Plotkin was appropriately strict as the prison matron.
Barbara Auriemma, a much-in-demand director of local productions, has molded the entire company into a unified whole. The cast was self-assured and everyone seemed to enjoy being on that stage.
The nearly continuous flow of music was handled with aplomb by musical director and pianist Rhea Arkin, backed by Richard Shapiro on drums and Rick Palley on bass guitar.
Choreographer Jenifer Badamo met the challenge of putting the cast through the paces of a dozen group numbers. Of these, “The Nicest Kids in Town” and the finale, “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” were particularly energetic.
Somewhat disappointing was the set design, which was overly simple and remained unchanged for much of the show. The costumes, though, were colorful and apt.