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Toby’s Dinner Theatre Hairspray

By • Apr 25th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Hairspray
Toby’s Dinner Theatre
Toby’s Dinner Theatre – Baltimore
Through July 1st
2:30 with intermission
$51-$56/$36.50 Children
Reviewed April 21st, 2012

There are certain expectations of high-quality and professionalism for a dinner theatre production. Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore certainly meets those expectations when it comes to costumes, lighting, set, choreography, ensemble vocals, and the overall physical appearance of their production of Hairspray. Unfortunately, the production lacks the something extra — the nuance, the moments — that make for a show that knocks your socks off. Hairspray is good; it is solid. There are some top-notch performances and some WOW moments, but it is not quite the same home run that the theatre nailed in their last several shows.

There is an overall flaw in the direction, under the helm of Lawrence B. Munsey, in that the focus seems to be on how to squeeze the most out of each line as a one-liner. Occasionally, this resulted in a hilarious new delivery of a line. However, more often than not, it sacrificed character and development and heart for over-the-top, zinger delivery. Hairspray is campy, and the most common mistake to make is to add on that extra layer of camp. However, it is much better for real heart-felt performances to shine through the campy script. Hairspray is funny but also warm and full of heart. This was a high-caliber performance in many ways, but it lost a lot of heart in search of shtick.

The other major mistake was Celia Blitzer in the role of Tracy. Blitzer was good, solid. She was on-pitch and in-step, but she was not the star of the show. She lacked the magical “something more.” She lacked that quality about Tracy that makes everyone fall in love and fall behind her. She was consistently out-shined by the performances and vocals of others around her. Hairspray needs to radiate around and from Tracy, but Blitzer’s Tracy is just good.

The next most important role is Edna. Lawrence B. Munsey did an excellent job in terms of carrying himself as a woman but still playing up the humor of the fact that he is a man. He was often funny, but he was rarely endearing. The same flaw that he brought to directing, he brought to his performance. Too much camp and too little heart.

Several other roles that are normally a good chance to shine in this production ended up either too over-the-top, like Munsey’s Edna, or too forgettable, like Blitzer’s Tracy. Charlie Abel as Wilbur was too over-the-top; David Little as Seaweed was too forgettable. Chad Wheeler was often forgettable, but he did have a few good moments and a really solid voice. Austin Colby as Link Larkin was sometimes forgettable as well, but his vocals were beautiful.

Still, there were a few standouts. Kelli Blackwell started to look like she was going to fall in the forgettable category, and then she sang “I Know Where I’ve Been.” It was soul-full, heart-felt, powerful, intense, real, and filled with amazing depth. It was the single best moment in the entire production. Ashley Johnson, Jessica Coleman, and Mary Searcy were dynamite as the Dynamites. The three women had incredible vocals and shined in every scene, even when they were at the back as ensemble. Scean A. Flowers also consistently stood out as a member of the ensemble with his excellent energy, dance, and commitment to the moment.

Two amazing performances came from Elizabeth Rayca (Velma von Tussle) and Katie Heidbreder (Amber von Tussle). Both women had awesome vocals. Rayca absolutely nailed “Miss Baltimore Crabs.” Both women were deliciously evil; yet, they were able to develop characters that showed real people underneath and hope for change and growth. Another amazing performance came from Amanda Kaplan (Penny Pingleton). Kaplan created an interesting character, who balanced over-the-top with nuance. Occasionally, the vocals were a little big for her voice, but she did not care and kept going. And she was so darn likeable that the audience did not care either.

The real stars of the show, though, were the technical elements. Choreography by Christen Svingos was interesting and creative, while also conforming to expectations for the show. The lighting design, courtesy of Lynn Joslin, was top-notch. Munsey’s costumes were gorgeous, and David A. Hopkin’s set design was ideal. Both captured the vision of the original production and were well-accommodated for the space and the cast.

The average audience member should go see this production, especially if you have never seen the show before. It is solid and visually stunning, and it is a great script and score. However, for the more critical audience member or more loyal fan of the show, many of the missteps and the lack of that extra-level of nuance might leave you wanting more.

Photo Gallery

Hairspray_0528[1] Hairspray (2)

Photos provided by Toby’s Dinner Theatre

Cast

  • Tracy Turnblad: Celia Blitzer
  • Corny Collins: Chad Wheeler
  • Edna Turnblad: Lawrence B. Munsey
  • Penny Pingleton: Amanda Kaplan
  • Velma von Tussle: Elizabeth Rayca
  • Amber von Tussle: Katie Heidbreder
  • Link Larkin: Austin Colby
  • Seaweed J. Stubbs: David Little
  • Little Inez: Mikaela Floyd or Cristen Hall
  • Motormouth Maybelle: Kelli Blackwell
  • Wilbur Turnblad: Charlie Abel
  • Prudy Pringleton, Gym Teacher, Matron: Heather Scheeler
  • Harriman F. Spritzer, Mr. Pinky, Guard: Will Emory
  • Tammy: Arielle Gordon
  • Fender: Matthew Greenfield
  • Brenda/Shelley: Vicky Mahoney
  • Sketch: Shane McCauley
  • IQ: Jason Wiggins
  • LouAnn: Rachel Kemp
  • Dynamite #1: Ashley Johnson
  • Dynamite #2: Jessica Coleman
  • Dynamite #3: Mary Searcy
  • Gilbert: Scean A. Flowers
  • Duane: Bryan Daniels
  • Understudies: Chad Wheeler (Edna/Wilbur), Amanda Rife (Tracy Turnblad), Debra Buonacorsi (Velma von Tussle/Prudy), Arielle Gordon (Penny Pingleton), Will Emory (Corny Collins), Vicky Mahoney (Amber von Tussle), Shane McCauley (Link Larkin), Bryan Daniels (Seaweed J. Stubbs), Shayla Simmons (Motormouth Maybelle/Dynamite), Matt Greenfield (Man/Pinky)
  • Swings: Kayleigh Brennan, Jay Garrick, Shayla Simmons, Marquise White

Production Staff

  • Director: Lawrence B. Munsey
  • Music Director: Brant Challacombe
  • Choreographer: Christen Svingos
  • Scenic Designer: David A. Hopkins
  • Costume Designer: Lawrence B. Munsey
  • Lighting Designer: Lynn Joslin
  • Sound Designer: Corey Brown, Melvina Coker
  • Production Manager: Vickie S. Johnson
  • Production Stage Manager: Heather Williams
  • Master Carpenter: David A. Hopkins
  • Set Construction: David A. Hopkins, Corey Brown, Russell Sunday, Sarah Splaine
  • Properties: Amy Kaplan
  • Stage Manager: Heather Williams
  • Light Board Operators: Melvina Coker, Jeanie McAlpine, Sarah Splaine
  • Sound Operators: Corey Brown, Melvina Coker
  • Crew: Jay Garrick, Ian Wallace, Michael Wilson

Orchestra

  • Conductor: Brant Challacombe or Douglas Lawler
  • Synthesizer: Barry Hamilton, Pam Wilt, Ann Prizzi
  • Saxophone: Brian Butler, Steve Hasser, Charlene McDaniel, Chris Reardon
  • Guitar: Kim Spath, Soren Mattson, Jason Barteck
  • Bass: Linda Cote, Michael Kellam, Jason Wilson
  • Drums: Tom Harold, Tarek Mohamed, Matt Jones, Aaron Holmes

Disclaimer: Toby’s Dinner Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been involved in theatre in the state of Maryland and DC for most of her life. She has acted, directed, choreographed, stage managed, and held a million other odd jobs. She has a B.S. in English from Towson University, and is currently pursuing her Master's Degree to become a Reading Specialist. She is a Maryland State Certified English, Theatre, Elementary, and Mathematics Educator. After teaching English and Drama for many years, she now teaches 6th grade Language Arts at Magnolia Middle School in Harford County, Maryland. She wrote the curriculum currently used in Prince George’s County Public Schools for Drama I and Drama II. She now writes and directs plays and musicals for use in church.

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