Good Morning Baltimore! ‘Hairspray’ opens at Broadway by the Bay (review)

No two-dimensional cutout, Grissom’s Edna, a one-man Greek chorus in drag, is the heart of the show.

Cole Grissom (center left) as “Edna Turnblad” and Vicki Morgan (center right) as “Tracy Turnblad” in Broadway By The Bay’s Hairspray at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City April 5 – 22.
In Review


 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars - 'Sweet Stuff'
Directed by Amanda Folena
Fox Theatre, Redwood City
April 5 - 22
Review by
Cole Grissom (center left) as “Edna Turnblad” and Vicki Morgan (center right) as “Tracy Turnblad” in Broadway By The Bay’s Hairspray at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City April 5 – 22.

The afternoon following the opening of the Broadway by the Bay’s production of Hairspray, emails began to fly: “it’s not ‘the-a-tuh,” remarked a fellow critic, but it is “absolutely fabulous.” Opening with a high-energy “Good Morning, Baltimore,” the audience was so engaged, that this assessment seemed on the money. If you’re looking for entertainment on the Peninsula, the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, is once again the place to be.

Productions of Hairspray walk a tight line. Many shows portraying the early ’60’s seem as genuine as the Coca Cola commercials of the same era. The naiveté, self-absorption, and even optimism are colossally forced. Long on saccharine (or cyclamates) and predictable music, there’s a self-congratulatory subtext that “we’re smarter than this now,” as characters are little more than poorly-schooled re-enactors of someone’s fantasy of the period.

Broadway by the Bay’s production of Hairspray, balances such deficits against the greater weight of Edna Turnblad, played by bass-baritone Cole Grissom. Firmly anchoring this work, Grissom prevented it from dissolving into a paean to adolescent hormones, solipsistic platitudes, and simplistic politics. No two-dimensional cutout, Grissom’s Edna is the heart of the show, a one-man Greek chorus in drag, who’s the show’s truth teller, with a tongue firmly in cheek.

No production of Hairspray could be even modestly successful without a stellar ensemble. Here, as with previous Broadway by the Bay productions, the ensemble is one of strengths of this production. Tight choreography and vocal numbers kept this show pushing forward, and helped pick up the pace.

Lamont Jones, as Seaweed, balanced the more intentionally insipid “Nicest Kids.” He brings such a sinuous smoothness to the role, that he variably dominates whatever scene is appears in.

One disturbing element of this production was what seemed to be a calculated lack of edginess. At a time when the nation is roiled by the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida, cutesy scenes over interracial dating in which Penny Pinkleton’s plaint that “my mom’s going to kill me” is turned upside down to “no, she’ll kill him” seem bizarrely tone-deaf to be played as comedy.

Hairspray is Broadway by the Bay’s first offering of 2012 and will be running through April 22nd. The fascination with early 1960s music continues with their next production, The Marvelous Wonderettes.

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Cy Ashley Webb
Cy spent the ‘80’s as a bench scientist, the tech boom doing intellectual property law, and the first decade of the millennium, aspiring to be the world’s oldest grad student at Stanford where she is interested in political martyrdom. Presently, she enjoys writing for Stark Insider and the SF Examiner, hanging out at Palo Alto Children's Theatre, and participating in various political activities. Democracy is not a spectator sport! Cy is a SFBATCC member.