Woodford Theatre, the Versailles community organization so excellent that it regularly attracts both talent and audiences from across the region, opened its season-ending musical last Friday, and it’s no surprise that this energetic production of the popular Marc Shaiman musical Hairspray is very entertaining.
The cast is a true cross-section of the communities the theater serves: A diverse group of seasoned professionals and talented university students share the stage with starry-eyed youngsters and amateur adults. The sense of a community coming together to put on this show and having fun is infectious. Anyone who comes to see it will enjoy it a lot.
The leading role of plus-sized teen TV sensation Tracy Turnblad is played with incredible energy by Madeline Williamson. Her line delivery and facial mugging are hilarious, which makes up for her limited and frequently off-pitch singing when she isn’t resorting to shouting the lyrics. She is nevertheless a commanding presence onstage and carries the show easily.
For great singing, the honors go to Peter Gibbons, who plays heartthrob Link with likable sincerity, and Darian Sanders, who plays soul-singing Seaweed with hip flair. Their amazing vocalism is a strong contribution to the show.
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Jessica Slaton Greene is an unusual casting choice for the matriarch Motormouth Maybelle, being more slender of voice and of girth than is usually associated with the role, but she acquits herself well in the part. As Tracy’s parents, Robert Parks Johnson, in the drag role of Edna, and Patrick Lee Lucas as Wilbur, are cuteness incarnate, practically stealing the show with their second-act number (You’re) Timeless To Me.
Daniel Bruington adds smarmy charm as TV host Corny Collins, and he sings really well, too. As the stuck-up villainesses Velma and Amber Von Tussle (the latter a role originated on Broadway by Lexington native Laura Bell Bundy), Sloan Gilbert and Rachel Jarrard present rather one-dimensional characters, a fault perhaps of the writing and/or the directing, but they’re fun to watch in their machinations throughout the plot. Emma Becker is darling as Tracy’s friend Penny.
The ensemble of singers, dancers and actors who comprise the rest of the company rise to the level of the leads at every turn, and they’re obviously enjoying themselves, which again is infectious. A special shout-out to Erica Tilford, Alicia Davila and Brittany Morton, who play a Supremes-like group called the Dynamites with pizzazz.
The 1960s-style choreography by Diana Evans Pulliam and William Parris fills the stage with catchy movement from start to finish. Constant kinetic energy is the hallmark of this production, and although disparate experience levels throughout the cast are evident, nobody lets the show down in the dancing department. They all give it their all.
The general staging by Vanessa Becker Weig keeps the show moving as well, although sometimes the dialogue scenes might have had more impact with less motion. Even in serious moments, when stasis would focus the audience’s attention, such as Link’s deciding to be with Tracy instead of Amber, or Motormouth’s speech about the struggle of race relations, the characters wander about aimlessly, without real dramatic purpose, sometimes having to speak upstage due to underdeveloped blocking. But these are small flaws in the overall staging of a huge cast in a high-octane musical.
Set designer John Holloway and lighting designer Danny Bowling have done a great job of fitting this gigantic show onto the Woodford Theatre stage, with inventive solutions to many scenarios. The seven-piece band led by Alyssa Sturgill gives solid support to the singing and dancing.
What: The Woodford Theatre’s production of the hit Broadway musical
When: 8 p.m. May 13, 14, 20, 21; 2 p.m. May 15, 22.
Where: Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center, 275 Beasley Dr., Versailles
Tickets: $20 adults, $13 students