Albany’s Park Playhouse
8/7 thru 8/19
I’ve come to the conclusion that Albany’s Park Playhouse will be sticking in my mind come Fall. As Summer slips away, as she does, she always leaves us with memories. One of those memories for me is sitting in the Summer night watching great theater under the stars in a beautiful park. Really, does it get any better?
There’s many beautiful theaters in the world, but perhaps none more beautiful than Park Playhouse. The ornate sparkles in the amphitheater are nothing more than little stars with broad strokes of clouds. The air conditioning is a soft westerly wind. And the main spotlight is the glow of the moon overhead. If this isn’t Summer, nothing is, and there’s certainly not many places left where you get to watch great shows outside. I can’t help but think the world would be happier if we all watched a musical together under the sky. To make it better, depending on where you sit, it’s free!
The newest great musical to arrive at the Park Playhouse is Hairspray, a step back into time when the world was different, inequality was rampant, and television really was black and white—or should have been. This play arrives on the heels of Cabaret, another great production that proved Albany theater can compete with the best of them. This Hairspray features a professional acting cast side by side with a student acting class, showing them the way without showing any mercy. And they don’t need to: The students here perform wonderfully and should be proud of themselves for a job well done, for competing with the best of them, and for filling big shoes with relative ease and confidence.
Hairspray was actually a movie in 1988 (by John Waters) and became a musical and Broadway sensation in 2002. It was co-authored by Mark O’Donnell, who, by strange coincidence, passed away just a day before the Park Playhouse run began (it was reported in the August 7, 2012 New York Times, featured here: nytimes.com/2012/08/08/theater/mark-odonnell-hairspray-writer-dies-at-58.html)
You are in Baltimore, 1962. Your name is Tracy Turnblad (Balley Medici), you are a plus-sized teen, and your dream is to get on an all-white television show, and then integrate it. Along the way, Tracy falls in love with Link Larkin (Charles Franklin), and gets a spot on a commercial for none other than, hairspray. Of course, now comes the sticky part: Dethroning the hairspray queen, meeting her fellow African American friends on the wrong side of town (“You can’t get a cab out this way”), and doing what no one has done before: Have a fully integrated tv show, with black and white. And as we are reminded, tv is black and white. But no way can we do this alone: We need a well-casted ensemble to help us, including Edna (Vincent DiPerl), a wildly funny transvestite married to Wilbur (Bill Douglas), the Dynamites (who were simply Dynamite), Corny Collins (Brian Pastiglione), and a great ensemble of too many to mention, to bring the house down with an award -winning line up of great songs, including You Can’t Stop the Beat, It Takes Two, The Big Dollhouse, You’re Timeless to Me and more.
Throw in spin offs of romance, more romance, and a lot of comedy, and Hairspray delivers a great evening of family fun for kids of all ages ( a few adult items, but nothing major). Never forget: Life ain’t easy, it’s not Parcheesi, and you can’t get lazy when things go crazy.
This play features a mixture of professional actors and actresses and students, working together side by side. It was a fast moving, entertaining show from a time of social injustice called yesterday. But it was also an ensemble of experienced talent and tomorrow’s promises working to make this production of theater under the stars an unforgettable experience.
Go see it.
(Everyone else did!)
Hairspray is directed by Jonathan O’Leary
Choreography by Ashley-Simone Kirchner
Musical direction by Justin P. Cowan. The production features Vincent DiPeri and Bailey Medici, as Edna Turnblad and Tracy Turnblad, respectively.