By Laura Casado
April 4, 2016
Tisch New Theatre’s production of “Hairspray” was a conglomerate of passion and talent, filled from start to finish with magical moments.
The musical, set in 1960s Baltimore, follows the journey of Tracy Turnblad (Casey Whyland), a full-figured teen who longs to join the picture-perfect “Nice Kids” dance crew on a local television program, “The Corny Collins Show.” Throughout the show, Tracy endures taunts and judgements regarding her size, and fights alongside black “Negro Day” dancers to combat the discrimination they face, an example being that they are only allowed on-air performance once a month. The show is bubbly and upbeat while also sending a powerful message regarding sizeism and racism that, unfortunately, is still relevant today.
The entire cast, from ensemble to lead, was phenomenal. Casey Whyland, a Liberal Studies sophomore, starred as Tracy Turnblad. Her voice beautifully carried numbers like “Good Morning, Baltimore” and “I Can Hear the Bells,” accompanied by phenomenal acting. Whyland mixed aspects from Lena Dunham of “Girls” and Rebel Wilson of “Pitch Perfect,” creating a hilariously brash and dynamic Tracy. Sarah Musicant, a Tisch freshman, displayed wildly impressive vocals as the adorably gawky Penny Pingleton, alongside junior Haley Callahan Fish as the flouncy Amber Von Tussle, whose combined prowess of dance, voice, and spot-on comedic timing was unparalleled. Clive Davis student Austin Crute swept the stage as Seaweed, giving a high-energy performance of dancing and singing that had every audience member jamming along. The show’s most tender moments were dominated by powerhouse Ada Obieshi as Motormouth Maybelle, especially in “I Know Where I’ve Been.”
Lighting design by NYU senior Kelley Shih was gorgeously fresh. The stage was alternately washed in magentas and midnight purples, with hazy reds for scenes like “The Legend of Miss Baltimore Crabs,” and ocean turquoise blues for “Timeless to Me.” Select scenes, however, such as jail in “The Big Dollhouse,” lacked enough front lights, leaving many actors’ faces in shadows. The sound was intermittently problematic as well, from Little Inez’s mic being dead during her “Run and Tell That” solo, which as a result was inaudible, to the “It Takes Two” duet where the vocal volume of Whyland’s Tracy and Link Larkin (Steinhardt graduate student Colten Blair) was unequally balanced. Several other solos were unfortunately drowned out by the magnificent 16-piece orchestra.
The show’s most outstanding aspect were the ensemble dance numbers. Director/choreographer Marc Anthony Ferre, a recent Tisch graduate, could not have done a more stellar job, incorporating classic ‘60s moves in stunningly high-speed sequences which were executed flawlessly by every ensemble member. The second song, “Nicest Kids in Town,” deserved a standing ovation of its own forits choreography.
A stand-out in the cast was Steinhardt senior Drew Carr in a dual role. His portrayal of Mr. Pinky was uproariously flamboyant andhe far outshined his counterparts as Corny Collins dancer Brad. Carr emits contagious energy with every step he executes, creating a performance that is pure joy to watch.
TNT’s “Hairspray,” regarding every facet that makes musical theatre great, is one that future generations of NYU performers will find difficult to trump.
“Hairspray” played at Skirball Center for the Performing Arts this past weekend.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 4 print edition. Email Laura Casado at firstname.lastname@example.org.