History-making theater collab falls dramatically flat at the Winspear
For such a historic collaboration, Dallas Theater Center and AT&T Performing Arts Center should have spent a bit more time primping before opening night. Hairspray, which appears as part of each organization's official season, is a limited-run production that unfortunately may not get the time it needs to iron out its kinks.
Based on the John Waters film, and sanitized for the stage by book writers Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Hairspray tells of a curvy teen who crusades for integration and acceptance in 1960s Baltimore. She does this by achieving fame on a local dance show, winning the hearts of viewers both black and white — and also that of the show's heartthrob. The cartoonish romp, with its clever and catchy score by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, opened on Broadway in 2002, picked up eight Tony Awards, and went on to run for another seven years.
Understudying hefty heroine Tracy Turnblad during that time was Michelle Dowdy, who here turns in a charming lead performance that demonstrates how comfortable she already is with the material. It's a good thing they have her as an anchor, because what swirls around her under Joel Ferrell's direction would make most performers curl up and die.
Think haphazard lighting cues, garbled lines, misfiring microphone packs, crew members visibly running across the stage, missed song entrances, and one darkened pause between scenes so lengthy that audience members started to rise, thinking it was intermission. Even the poor programs were MIA, the result of a shipping mishap that's not the fault of anyone involved in the production but felt oddly fitting for the evening.
But for all the tech disasters, there are a few bright spots. DFW's own Cara Serber vamps it up as the villainous Velma Von Tussle and DTC Brierley Resident Acting Company member Liz Mikel scores a few poignant moments as Motormouth Maybelle, the DJ who hosts "Negro Day" on the dance show. While David Coffee isn't quite the force you'd hope him to be as Tracy's mama (Harvey Fierstein originated the role, to give you an idea of the shoes he's filling), he and Bob Reed make an adorable couple.
An energetic ensemble rises above the chaos to execute Ricky Tripp's energetic choreography with finesse, and Taylor O'Toole and Deanna Ott are the nicely matched foils of Tracy's awkward best friend Penny and blonde-beehived nemesis Amber, respectively.
Who truly slides and swaggers away with the show, though, is Anthony Chatmon II. He's captivating as Seaweed, the swivel-hipped new friend of Tracy's who is also Motormouth's son and Penny's unexpected love interest. Wondering why Chatmon's name might sound familiar? He was one of the talented cast members of Fiasco Theater's Into the Woods tour, which came to the Winspear in 2017.
Dallas Theater Center and AT&T Performing Arts Center's co-production of Hairspray runs at the Winspear Opera House through July 15.