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Friday, March 25, 2011

Paramount Players' "Hairspray": "You Can't Stop the Beat"

ABC Family is airing its premiere of the 2007 movie “Hairspray” Sunday at 9:30 p.m. But if you really want the “Hairspray” experience, I highly recommend you check it out this weekend at the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland.

The Paramount Players are presenting the musical today (March 25th) at 8 p.m. and Saturday, March 26th at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.

I have never seen either movie or any performance on stage, so this was my first introduction to the “Hairspray” world. I was impressed at how socially conscious it is, and I had to wonder if the middle school and high school students I was watching it with really got it since it’s something I hope they’ve never had to face in person.

If you have never seen it, “Hairspray,” which is based on the 1988 John Waters movie, tells the story of Tracy Turnblad. She’s an adorable, talented high school student whose dream is to be one of the dancers on the “Corney Collins Show” (Think “American Bandstand.”) and to get heartthrob dancer Link Larkin to fall in love with her. But Tracy’s a tad on the overweight side and doesn’t really get the attention she deserves until she learns a few moves from her black classmate. Her newfound popularity turns not only her life on its ear, but everyone else’s as well—including Link’s.

It’s clear from the show’s first note that the key to a successful performance is to cast a good Tracy and they’ve definitely got a good one here in Portsmouth High School junior Abbie Emmons. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that Emmons and I are Facebook friends that met when we both competed in this year’s “Portsmouth Idol.” But it’s hard to believe I would feel any differently about her performance if I didn’t know her. She has just the right amount of sweetness and perkiness to make you root for Tracy to get the guy and find a way to integrate “Corney Collins.”

But Emmons doesn’t have to carry the show on her own as she has great support from the rest of the cast. Savannah-Lee Mumford was deservedly a crowd favorite as Tracy’s goofy best friend, Penny. And if you know anything about “Hairspray,” you know that the part of Tracy’s mother, Edna, is played by a man—in this case, Michael Niday. Niday was outstanding and lit up every scene in which he appeared. And I loved every solo Susan Taylor (Motormouth Maybelle) sang.

In all honesty, I could say something good about every member of the cast. Director Melanie Sweeney, who also plays Penny’s mother, Prudy, has done an excellent job putting the cast together. Kudos also to Sweeney for her outstanding choreography and Amber Ferguson for her musical direction.

Even the high school students that attended Thursday morning’s special performance left the theater singing the songs because try as you might, “You Can’t Stop the Beat”…

We are so fortunate to be able to see local performances of this caliber in the Tri-State, so I hope theater lovers will take advantage of this opportunity to see a good one in the beautiful Paramount Arts Center.

For ticket information, visit the PAC website.