The most exciting promise of summer is on the horizon as Timber Lake Playhouse opens Season 54 tonight with rousing musical “Hairspray.” The summer stock theatre in the boonies of Mount Carroll is on a roll proving that “the stars shine brighter deep in the woods,” as observed by Artistic Director Jim Beaudry.
This Tony Award winning musical achieved its success up a stepladder of creative juices from 1988 John Waters film “Hairspray.” The film inspired the book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, then music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics with Scott Wittman. That was in the ‘80s. The style, however, takes us back to the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Directed by TLP’s returning talent Lil-Anne Brown, the satire of song and dance exploits racial barriers of the era into an explosion of stereotypes that runs a theme of bawdy hysteria throughout. As the message is portrayed loud and clear through hip gyrations, teased hair and rhythmic doo-wops, the subtext runs a disquieting parallel for those who remember dark times.
The ingenious structure of excitement, however, passes forward a daredevil spell to make one want to race out of the theatre and flaunt all that haunts one.
Main character Tracy Turnblad by Amelia Jo Parish represents the down side of bullying as a plus size high school student. She also dreams big, in hopes of romance, stage and justice. In her role, Parish can own the house as a brassy broad in “Welcome to the ’60s” yet be gently yearning in “I Can Hear The Bells.” Her overall artistic presence is a special kind of beauty more endearing to the eye and to the role itself.
Hints of prior Mickey Mouse Club are in scenes led by Corny Collins (returning TLP actor Grant Alexander Brown) as cutesy lineup Brad (Orrin Keown), Tammy (Holly Moss), Fender (Tyler Klingbiel), Sketch (Levi Skoog) Shelley (Emalia Dunkel), IQ (Chandler Smith) and friends sing themselves through “The Nicest Kids in Town.”
Bolstering the lily-white aspect is properly snooty producer Velma Von Tussle (Paige ManWaring) who strongly sets the record through song, “The Legend of Miss Baltimore Crabs.”
Parents Edna by Tommy Bullington in drag and Wilbur by Cullen Rogers are on the other side of the ‘50s rabbit ears television as starry-eyed daughter yearns through “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now.”
Among the many magic moments of this show is when Tracy is struck with her first mad crush on Link Larken (Samual Leicht). The lighting changes and the actors turn into a frozen tableau as she hears those ‘Bells’ overheard. Leicht has superlatively slick moves as a budding Elvis striking air guitar poses in an instant.
Times change with “Welcome to the ‘60s” including glitzy Dynamites & Co., full of brass and doo-wops and a special note to Shayla Brielle G. for a spectacular vocal.
Equally strong characters that represent the prejudicial element of the show are marvelous additions to the stereotypical images. As “Seaweed J. Stubbs,” Eli Emmit teaches his oozy moves to Tracy in “Detention,” while his mother Motormouth Maybelle takes the house down in “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” and sister Inez with “Run and Tell That.”
Big show, big cast and feel-good musical “Hairspray” opens tonight and runs through June 14 at Timber Lake Playhouse. All evening performances are 7:30 p.m. (No Monday, June 7 or 14 evenings.) Two Sundays, Saturday June 6 and Wednesday June 10 matinees 2 p.m; Group rates available. Tickets go fast. TLP is located at 8215 Black Oak Road, in the boonies of Mt. Carroll. Beware of road construction on Route 40 from Sterling-Milledgeville-Polo area and possible delays. Contact the box office at (815) 244-2035 or for tickets and more information.