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Gleefully juvenile and flippant, Hairspray seems perfect for high school kids, who also make up most of its characters. But despite all the attention paid to appearance--especially the towering bouffants that require so much of the title product--it's far from superficial. Set in 1962 Baltimore, Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan's musical adaptation of John Waters's 1988 film is explicitly devoted to the racial integration of a local TV dance show but also implicitly welcomes various cultural outcasts--the fat, the gay, the gag-store lover--into the fold of the "normal." Our heroine, teenager Tracy Turnblad, is lovable in part because her psyche is as sturdy as her body: she seems barely aware that her broad girth puts her beyond the pale of popularity. And as played by mountainous J.P. Dougherty in drag, Tracy's mother, Edna, was so warm, tough, and sweet that I wanted to take her home with me as my mom, dad, and best friend rolled into one despite her garish outfits. Or was it because of them? Other gems are Caissie Levy (who has a knockout set of pipes) as Tracy's dim best friend and Sweat Girls founder Jane Blass in a multitude of dorky adult roles. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's witty songs both spoof the sounds of the 60s and draw us into the characters' lives--especially the duet for Tracy's parents, "Timeless to Me." Through 12/18: Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 PM, Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, 312-902-1400, $37.50-$82.50.

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

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