REVIEW: OUCH! Footlight Theatre’s Debut “Hairspray” Has Some Serious Kinks

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  • BY SANDY STAGGS
    DRAMA CRITIC

The brand new Footlight Theatre Company in Greenville welcomes us to the ‘60s, the turbulent decade of racial strife, bouffant hair and the mashed potato, in its debut production of “Hairspray” that will be remembered for years to come, though unfortunately not for the reasons the producers had hoped.

This uneven version of the Tony-winning musical adaption of John Waters’ campy cult film, likely has Divine turning over in her super-sized grave.

With music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman and a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, “Hairspray” is, of course, the odyssey of pretty-but-plump Tracy Turnblad (played here by Katherine C. Billingsly, a 16-year-old from the Governor’s School for the Arts), who becomes a teenage dance star on a local Baltimore TV station and leads the charge to integrate “The Corny Collins Show.”

Grossly miscast, Miss Billingsly  is only a size 4 at best, but compensates for her hefty shortcomings with lumpy throw pillows that sometimes look like two pigs fightin’ under a blanket, and become most ironic when she belts  her solo “Mama I’m a Big Girl Now.”

However, this young lady is a spitfire of enthusiasm with a firm grasp of pitch in tunes like the introductory anthem “Welcome to the ‘60s.”  But her lovely soprano voice can’t compensate for a generally mediocre supporting cast, which incredulously only features one person of color — Masha Reed, as the rapping Motormouth Mabel. Reed has the swagger and vocal intensity of a Queen Latifah, but shows little of her butchy sass in the Mae West come-hitherness in “Big, Blonde and Beautiful.”

I am all for non-traditional casting but the young Caucasian actors Henry Rochester and Louise Richards who play her children Seaweed and Little Inez lose all credibility with their pancake (and borderline brown -face make-up) which I, and the majority in the audience, found quite offensive. Director Katrina Goswell’s insensitive casting decision virtually undercuts the entire morality premise of the narrative. At least one third of the audience left the auditorium at intermission.

As Tracy’s mother Edna, James Sprinkles may have inhaled too much starch at his ironing board. He has as much forgettable personality and emotional investment as the Week One contestant that Sashays Away on  “Rupaul’s Drag Race.” And his romantic duet with Magnes Xavier’s Wilbur in “You’re Timeless to Me” sparked less chemistry than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at the presidential debates.

Ginger Rapport relishes in the part of the vampy Velma von Tussel however she looks several years younger than her daughter Amber (played by Amber Atkins in her stage debut), especially when mother is all dolled up for “Miss Baltimore Crabs.”

An ebullient Kendra Briggs makes a playful effort as Penny Pingleton, but in the second act she got her lollipop stuck in her hair — twice!

Choreographer Cynthia Ross has New York credits in her bio but they must be  Off-Off-Off-Off Broadway as in Jersey. Her Corny Collins kids may never be ready for prime time: they were sloppy and out of sync, their mashed-potato was runny, their twist was more of a lurch, their watusi was more wasabi and their Madison was completely missing in action.

Goswell’s direction is marginally palpable: lines were flubbed, marks were missed and the wheels on the cardboard set pieces (by scenic designer Chumley Fields) would not roll properly on opening night.

Also, either bring an umbrella or avoid the first three rows as two of the Council Members have over-stimulated salivation glands and showered several patrons on opening night.

Josie Cotton’s period costumes are adequate, but most give the impression of being discovered in a Party City bargain bin. And sadly, Leslie Magoo’s wigs reminded me of that dead raccoon my dog once brought home from the woods.

And I believe I spotted two camel toes on opening night. And in a family production. Ugh!

The Footlight troupe is obviously on a shoestring budget but have committed to employing live musicians in this staging. Unfortunately, the drummer (Kevin Kojak) could not decide on a tempo for several numbers including the big finale “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” Luckily the beat did stop.

In short, save your money and instead see the wonderfully bouncy production at JL Mann High School this weekend or wait for Greenville Little Theatre’s surefire hit in June.

HAPPY APRIL FOOLS DAY! This entire review is fictitious, but hoped you chuckled a few times.
Now let’s see some real fabulous theatre this month!

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