Del Mar dons up-do’s, finds fun in Hairspray

Boy, the 1960’s sure looked fun, at least stylistically speaking. When viewed next to the new millennial teens we are currently embroiled in, there really is no contest in fashion savvy, color, and music. Maybe I just can’t see the forest for the trees, but I personally would much rather hear the music of 1962 over 95% of what is released today. So, to be thrown face first into the bold and ostentatious world of Kennedy-era America is a real trip in the time machine. Hard to believe that is now half a century ago.

Del Mar High School has taken on the challenge of bringing this signature era to life in their production of Hairspray; the modern realization of the John Waters classic brought to fame on the big screen in 2007 with John Travolta and Nikki Blonsky. The depth of this production goes far beyond aesthetic shtick and gets into the social issues that were inexorably present at the time. Racism, body image, “red” politics as well as the musical and cultural revolution of the time take the lead and make the show relevant even fifty years after its setting.

Leading the charge out of the time vortex and into the audience’s heart is Tracy Turnblad, played by a charming Maria Griswold. Her take on the character is still as colorful, energetic, and endearing as her cinematic counterpart's. But, I feel her strength is in her grounded and relaxed take on the character which makes Tracy approachable, connectable, and more real. And of course, there is her voice. Griswold shows her experience in her vocal performance with strong pitch, great projection, and an overall sound which blew the preview-night audience away.

Equally impressive was the work of the many supporting leads, starting with Penny Lou Pingleton (played by Madelyne Forrester) who pushes the envelope with her physicality and comedic timing, winning over the audience well before the major upswing in her character’s arc truly begins. Kendall Davis-Granada is equally animated as the venomous and spiteful Amber Von Tussle who effectively earned the crowd’s disgust in record time. Jake Garcia’s work as Link Larkin had some real-life ladies swooning in the audience as he swiveled his hips with his Stratocaster during “It Takes Two”.

The cast of Del Mar's Hairspray
The cast continued to show its depth with the work of Sean Bald as Edna Turnblad; taking his turn at the cross-dressing role and making it fun, confident, and truly enjoyable. Paul Hastings also lights up the stage as Corny Collins, and Lili Aguada wails (even without a working microphone) as the over-the-top Motormouth Maybelle. Also notable was the work of college student Alex Andrews who brought some real Detroit-cool to the role of Seaweed J. Stubbs. Sidney Abel was also a stand-out as councilmember Tammy, bringing appreciated energy and commitment to the stage.

The visual aesthetic of the show was spot on, from the wonderful signage created by Jennifer Sanders to the wigs and makeup fashioned by Jimmy Servera and Jaymee Senigaglia respectively. Barb Griswold’s costumes and were also a treat as she captured the period perfectly. Choreography by Joni and Jaclyn Cronin was pure fun; high energy and didn’t skimp on the difficulty.

If the show has an Achilles heel, it is sound. 99% of the problems will more than likely be alleviated by tonight’s opening, but the preview performance was plagued with balance issues between actors with overdriven body-mics versus upstage chorus members with very few field mics to help fill the sound. Occasional issues also arose from an incompletely amplified drum-kit in the orchestra which made tempos hard to discern during moments of heavy orchestration.

Despite the prerequisite preview performance issues, the cast and crew of Hairspray has a fun one on their hands. This production emanates a spirit of community which is infectious from the moment you walk through the door. Many of the parents and volunteers involved in this production are involved in other school and community endeavors at the same time, which begs the question: How do they slow time down to be able to accomplish so much? It is truly admirable, and the students and staff of Del Mar must be over the moon to have such a dedicated corps of volunteers. So be a part of their community and get out there to see the fun while it lasts!

Del Mar High School – Hairspray
1224 Del Mar Ave, San Jose, CA 95128 (Performing Arts Center)
February 9-11, 16-18
Tickets - $15 adult/general
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