Hairspray | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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Cinderella goes to the ball, dances up a storm, wins the heart of Prince Charming--and becomes the people's princess by leading a revolution in style and sensibility. That's the gist of this bouncy Broadway musical, cannily adapted from the 1988 John Waters movie. The setting is 1962 Baltimore, strictly segregated by race, class, and standards of beauty. "Cinderella" is Tracy Turnblad--plump but packed with personality--who becomes a celebrity when she appears on a local American Bandstand knockoff, "The Corny Collins Show." In place of a fairy godmother she meets a clique of black kids who teach her moves that thrill her fellow white high schoolers and horrify their parents. "Prince Charming" is up-and-coming crooner Link Larkin, who not only falls for Tracy but joins her crusade to integrate Collins's show. Driven by a period-perfect pop score--Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's buoyant tunes are arranged in Phil Spector wall-of-sound style--and energized by Jerry Mitchell's exhilarating choreography, Hairspray is a sweetly subversive celebration of outsiderdom that preaches a happy gospel of self-respect and tolerance for others. As Tracy, 19-year-old newcomer Carly Jibson is a sassy, brassy delight. High-powered support comes from Hollywood-handsome Austin Miller as Link; former off-Loop wunderkind Chester Gregory II (appearing here through January 3 only) as Tracy's black mentor, Seaweed Stubbs; and Sandra Denise as Tracy's pal Penny, whose romance with Seaweed provides salt-and-pepper counterpoint to the sugary romance between Tracy and Link. The main shortcoming of this touring production is star Bruce Vilanch, the onetime Chicago journalist turned Hollywood gag writer, who plays the drag role of Tracy's mountainous mother. Though he's at home on TV shows like Hollywood Squares, Vilanch generally lacks the stage presence this role requires; happily, he blossoms in the second act, when he takes a vaudeville turn with the wonderful Todd Susman, engagingly understated as Tracy's father. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, 312-902-1400. Through February 15: Tuesdays, 7:30 PM; Wednesdays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 2 PM; Tuesday, December 23, 2 and 7:30 PM; Sunday, December 28 and January 4 and 11, 2 and 7:30 PM; Wednesday, December 31 and January 7, 7:30 PM only; no show Wednesday-Thursday, December 24-25. $37-$87.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul Kolnik.

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