I want to thank the Dogwood Dell production of “Hairspray” for many things. First off, for implanting in my head a whole slate of great tunes that have run like an internal soundtrack for me over the past couple of days. Earworms like these I can handle, particularly happy, up-tempo ones that make the turmoil in the economic world right now seem a little less agonizing.
Also, I’d like to thank this production for re-affirming the obvious: there is ample interest in live theater in this town. When I showed up at Dogwood Dell on Friday, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Granted I got there a little later than I probably should have (8:20ish) but the droves of people that scattered the hillside above the amphitheater and infiltrated the trees bordering house-right was unlike anything I’d ever seen at the Dell before. Clearly, the word had gotten out that this was a must-see production and Richmonders took advantage of a relatively cool night to swamp the outdoor venue. The crowd on Saturday was smaller (yes, I went twice), but showed their vigorous support by staying through a pretty persistent drizzle that ran through the middle third of the performance.
Finally, I want to thank “Hairspray” and director Leslie Owens-Harrington for introducing me to a whole new fleet of talented young performers. The dozens of teens that populated this cast took to Ms. Owens-Harrington’s lively choreography like fish to water and were consistently focused and first-rate in their performances. The major roles were all exceptional, everyone from little Imani Crosby as Little Inez to big gravelly-voiced Todd Schall-Vess as Edna Turnblad. I was surprised by the strong, clear vocals from supporting players like J.R. Booker as Seaweed Stubbs and Ashlyn Landrum as Penny Pingleton. But even more so, I was blown away by the performances from Glennis Crosby as Motormouth Maybelle – her “I Know Where I’ve Been” was a stunner – and of course, Kate Rancka as Tracy Turnblad. Ms. Rancka has a powerhouse voice and a sweet, sincere stage presence that anchored the whole enterprise. For a 17 year old to take on such a responsibility and succeed so completely is really impressive.
As “Hairspray” uncurled at the Dell, long-running “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” closed down at the Empire and “Monique” moved on to greener pastures at RTP. But obstinately, the Richmond theater world won’t stop producing shows, as RTP will open up their “Dirty Little Showtunes” revue on the 18th. Doesn’t anyone take a rest anymore?
“Hairspray” officially closed out the 2010-2011 season as far as I’m concerned and I’ll be taking a breather from seeing anything on stage for a few weeks, at least until the September surge of new shows begins with “Lend Me a Tenor” on Sept. 9th. Looking at my personal statistics, last season I saw 33 professional mainstage productions offered by Richmond-area theater companies. I saw an additional 21 out-of-town or local non-professional productions over the year. This may be the first year ever that I saw more than 1 show a week on average (helped immensely by the unique opportunity to see 8 shows over 10 days back in July). That makes it kind of a landmark for me.
Even in a season where I saw so much, I still rue the key shows I missed. Even in the face of the raves I read or heard, I couldn’t make it the Mill’s “Wait Until Dark” or the Henley / RichShakes co-pro of “The Winter’s Tale.” I’ve seen almost everything Scott Wichmann has been in here but “A Thousand Clowns” escaped me, as did “Romeo and Juliet” starring two of my favorite local actors as the leads. I really wanted to check out CAT’s “Bloody Murder” and several folks talked up “Honk!” to me. It’s all a testament to how much good stuff is going on around here that it’s nearly impossible to see it all.
Do you have any show from last season that you missed that you are kicking yourself about missing now?
Also, be sure and check back here next Monday for the official announcement / listing of the nominations for the 4th Annual RTCC awards. Exciting times!