With all the bad publicity that Baltimore has been receiving because of the recent rioting due to the death of Freddie Gray, it was refreshing to hear the opening number of Hairspray. As the lyrics rang out to “Good morning Baltimore,” the packed park at Musicals at Richter in Danbury seemed to cheer more robustly than usual. It was great to see a diverse cast on stage and to hear cheers for all the performers no matter what the color of their skin.
Directing the cast of high energy performers, Matthew Farina made sure there was never a slump in the action. Katie Cummings does a terrific job as Tracy Turnblad, the plump teen who dreams of integrating blacks and whites on a popular American Bandstand-type television show during the early 1960s. Of course, in the process of accomplishing this, she also intends to win the heart of Link Larkin, played by Connor Spain. Cummings’ strong vocals and dance numbers make her the perfect leading lady for this enthusiastic community theater production.
Also delivering exceptionally fine performances are Mike Armstrong as Tracy’s mom and Ted Schwartz as Wilbur, Tracy’s dad. Their duet towards the end of the play is quite moving and beautifully rendered. Jessica Schwartz as Tracy’s rival and a Barbie Doll look-alike does a great job as an antagonist and Brooke Morris as Penny Pingelton, Tracy’s best friend, delivers a sterling performance.
Ismael Santana as Seaweed, Penny’s boyfriend, has all the rhythm of a cool dude dancer, while The Dynamites — Janina Gonzalez-Rosa, Josephine Gottfried, and Jessica Paige — received well deserved cheers and whistles after their glowing performances. Bobby Bria as television host Corny Collins is a natural entertainer.
This is a very large cast with a fine ensemble that never failed to brighten the evening sky. Musicals at Richter couldn’t have selected a more timely piece to produce. The stars and planets must have agreed because this outdoor venue had a weekend of great weather.
While the city of Baltimore recovers, more productions of Hairspray need to be produced nationwide. We are a country of diversity and this musical comedy brings everyone together.
This production plays through July 18. Box office: 203-748-6873.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]