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27

Jul

Hairspray Teases a Smile from a Stone

Oh stop, Cabrillo Stage, you’re hurting my smile muscles, and you’ve done it before! Now, with a great-looking, full-tilt production of Hairspray, Cabrillo dances, sings and storytells its way right Over-The-Top to the intersection of crooning Elvis and the dazzling Supremes, with a fable of teen love, teen rebellion and teen triumph set in the Snazzy Sixties whose civil rights turmoil is translated into the language of musical theater and dresses real cool. Sounds like fun, eh?  

Prepared for the possibility of cringe-inducing Pony-dancing pop protestors shimmying their way through “Oh gosh why don’t we all get along” solutions to segregation, it was quickly clear that Hairspray just defies all resistance and carries the audience along with torrential energy to the inevitable happy ending—you just have to give up and love it. Like Hair or Jesus Christ Superstar before it, Hairspray’s exciting production numbers, colorful sets and costumes, fast-moving choreography and hummable tunes is as good a way to get a message across as from a pulpit or a schoolroom.  Hairspray won the Tony for Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score and five other Tony’s in 2002.  This musical, in other words, was like a big box of chocolates for Cabrillo Stage, and they bit them all open, enjoyed them with gusto and now let the audiences in on the feast.

The story revolves around zaftig Tracy Turnblad (Monica Turner whose singing and dancing is blazingly good), the bouffantest girl in school who wants to dance in the Corny Collins Show on television, hoping to win the heart of dreamboat Link Larkin (Blake Collins, another triple-threat singer-dancer-actor whose Elvis moment was perfect) but she just isn’t Corny Collins material, according to the producer, Velma Von Tussle (a deliciously dreadful Kate McCormick). The irrepressible Tracy wins over Corny Collins (Bobby Marhessault, perfect for the belting singer-salesman role) with the “Negro dancing” she learned in Detention with Seaweed J. Stubbs (Corey Liggins, a fine voice and presence) and his friends (all guilty of Attending High School While Black). Tracy becomes convinced that integrating the Corny Collins Show will make a difference. Joining her in her efforts, her mother Edna Turnblad (Tony Panighetti in impeccable drag) and father Wilbur (Doug Baird) form an unlikely alliance with MotorMouth Mayelle (Jennifer Taylor Daniels, an extraordinary gospel singer and redeeming presence onstage), organizer of the Negro dances.  

Large colorfully-patterned cartoony cutouts serve as much of the set by Skipp Epperson, brilliantly locating an era and an upbeat atmosphere, adding light and information—not least through the terrific device of large wavery cartoon-shaped black-and-white television screens above the heads of the teen dancers. 

Working every inch out of her Big Blonde and Beautiful role , Jennifer Taylor Daniels brought the soul of soul to the stage in her jawdroppingly soaring gospel rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been,” one of the few moments when the breathless momentum of the singing dancing mugging stopped and the audience and the show can find a real beating heart.

I really looked forward to seeing Tony Panighetti in his Edna role, as he was spectacular in the Cabrillo Stage production of Scrooge.  In this show, his performance added a thread of poignancy to the otherwise relentlessly cheerful production.  Tenderly in love with husband Wilbur, stay-at-home Edna is the only person in the show who doubts him/herself, not just because of her size (rubber tires round the middle girth) but her status as stay-at-home housewife.  The “You’re Timeless to Me” duet between Baird and Panighetti was so touchingly funny because, like the best of the rest in this show, the emotions—though exaggerated, ring true. Panighetti in appropriate moments allows the veil of his character to shift open a crack, and the actor transforming himself shows through—fascinatingly.

Hairspray continues at Cabrillo Stage through August 14.

CAPTION:    Tony Panighetti as Edna, Monica Turner as Tracy and Bobby Marchessault as Corny Cornwell.

06

Jan

Scrooge 2010 Cheers Cabrillo Stage Audiences—a New Holiday Tradition?

The face of a gigantic clock marks the place as well as the time of the action and plays an important role in a marvelous production of the updated Dickens’ classic, Scrooge, at Cabrillo Stage. From the first rousing greeting by a stage full of caroling Victorian Londoners to the exhilarating full-throated conclusion, there is not a lagging moment. Even the “Bah Humbug! Tired of Christmas” audience members just have to give in and grin.

Based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol—a tale almost as familiar as the Christmas story itself—the musical Scrooge began as a 1970 film starring Albert Finney for which composer Leslie Bricusse won an Academy Award. Bricusse’s stage musical opened in 1992 and has been in constant production since. Cabrillo presented Scrooge in a sold out run in 2009 with a favorite local actor in the lead role. Yet the 2010 Scrooge is as fresh as a newborn idea. 

Everything is crisp, from the diction of the omnitalented cast to the fabulous footwork. The evocative set has a just-washed-in-the-rain look, indicating the stone streets of old London or the interiors of homes and offices—all overseen by the backlit face of Big Ben, ticking the hours till midnight.  The components of Skip Epperson’s set are changed onstage by cast members in costume sweeping the snow off a street as the space  becomes a dining room, or twirling the podium desk of the money-counting Scrooge, making the object part of the choreography; a few ghouls spin the disturbed man’s fourposter bed in a physical evocation of his mental state, requiring the character to twirl around while singing, it’s all very clever and well-done.

The principals are outstanding.  Tony Panighetti is a convincing and charmingly irascible Scrooge who sings with a bold strong baritone. Scrooge’s deceased partner, Jacob Marley, emerges from the depths of the flickering underworld, dragging chains and a few ghosts behind him to sing in a resonant basso provocative warnings of a wasted life. Eleanor Hunter’s Ghost of Christmas Present is indeed larger than (this) life presence, singing in a full-throated alto, flinging her ersatz red fur and ermine-cloaked whole self into an oft-quaffing “I Like Life.”

Charming ensemble pieces make the most of the prodigious dancing and singing talents of a chorus of young people. Geoffrey Ward does an enchanting job as a button-popping merry Mr. Fezziwig leading a merry dance to “December the 25th”.  Matt Dunn has a remarkable stage presence and clear voice as The Nephew, leading an infectious ensemble piece “The Minister’s Cat.”

The Cratchits, those poor but decent folk, are headed by a convincing Nicholas Ceglio as Bob—a self-effacing employee of Scrooge and a loving and playful head of household and father to the iconic figure of Tiny Tim.  The Cratchit household is peopled by fine but somewhat mismatched singers with Ginger Hurley a strong clear soprano as Tiny Tim. 

There seemed to be no missed cues or cheap shots in this production that filled the stage with a cast of 40 ranging in ages from eight years (Hurley) to middle-aged with only one Equity Actor (Panighetti) but centuries of stage experience.

Producer/Artistic Director Jon Nordgren and Director Andrew Ceglio have done a wonderful job of “keeping Christmas in our hearts” at Cabrillo Stage.  Let’s hope it’s a Christmas family tradition.

Photo caption: Tony Panighetti is a Scrumptious Scrooge for Cabrillo Stage.



The Exhibitionist is funded in part by the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County.