Reservoir High School’s Hairspray – The Beat Lives On
Reservoir High School proved that they couldn’t “stop the beat” with their exuberant performance of the Tony-award-winning musical Hairspray. With impeccable sets, innovative lighting, soulful vocals, and a ton of personality, the Reservoir High School drama department gave the audience a true taste of 1960s Baltimore in this exciting and entertaining musical.
Reservoir’s production took much inspiration from the original Broadway production of Hairspray that opened in 2002. Based on the 1988 movie, Hairspray centers around plus-sized teenager Tracy Turnblad (Stephanie Ichniowski). Tracy becomes the newest dancer on The Corny Collins Show, based on Baltimore’s real-life Buddy Deane Show that aired in the early 1960s. Though she faces strife from conniving producer Velma von Tussle (Becky Lamich) and her obsequious daughter Amber (Audrey Simmons), who scoff at Tracy’s size and fight to steer the show in “the white direction,” Tracy has the support of her bawdy mother Edna (Matthew Acquard), visionary father Wilbur (Andrew Rayo), and ditzy best friend Penny Pingleton (Allison Bradbury), along with a budding romance with dancer Link Larkin (Eric Meehan). Blending serious issues of segregation and injustice with upbeat songs and dance numbers, Hairspray truly captures the culture of the 1960s.
The professionalism of Reservoir’s performance echoed that of the Broadway production, with sets and choreography inspired by the original. Actors took the stage with unparalleled enthusiasm, and even the show’s villains were hard not to like. Bright vocal harmonies, synchronized dancing, and expert comedic timing kept the audience intrigued.
Ichniowski truly captured the spirit of Tracy Turnblad. Her clear, strong voice shone effortlessly, especially in “I Can Hear the Bells” and “Without Love.” Ichniowski genuinely portrayed Tracy’s passion for integration and acceptance, and she maintained her energy throughout the show, always keeping a smile on her face. In keeping with the tradition of casting a man as Edna, Acquard delivered with hilarious deadpan and sarcastic wisecracks. Lamich and Simmons captured the manipulative nature of the von Tussle mother-daughter team, cracking jokes dripping with sarcasm. The female leads had a seamless vocal blend, as demonstrated in the number “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,” featuring Tracy, Edna, Amber, Velma, Penny, and Prudy. Synchronized blocking made this number one of the show’s standouts.
Energy is key to a good ensemble, and Reservoir’s ensemble had energy and talent in abundance. The eleven “Nicest Kids in Town” showcased personality and attitude, and the sharp dance moves of the entire ensemble were flawless. Instead of squeezing their large ensemble onstage, Reservoir made use of the aisles and a walkway around the pit, giving the actors extra room and a chance to connect with the audience.
Most notably, excellent tech anchored the show. In the opening number “Good Morning, Baltimore,” Ichniowski “woke up” from an upright bed that, when revolved, also served as her front door. The Turnblads’ small living room was located downstage right, allowing the audience to view both Corny Collins’ studio and the Turnblads’ reactions to the show simultaneously. Reservoir utilized a slightly transparent curtain to create a dreamy feeling of atmosphere in numbers such as “Without Love.” Wilbur’s Har-de-Har Hut Joke Shop, one of the show’s most complex sets, even featured a Rube Goldberg machine that closed the door, along with other unique contraptions. Colorful, groovy flower-shaped lights set the mood for the downtown scenes, and the intense changes of lighting were especially effective in “The Big Dollhouse” and “I Know Where I’ve Been.” Authentic, vibrant costumes and big, bold hair remained true to the 1960s, and the fat suits worn by Tracy, Edna, and Motormouth Maybelle looked realistic. An exceptional pit band laid the foundation for the show’s music numbers. With the exception of microphone feedback in the opening number, Hairspray’s tech was flawless.
Hairspray’s stellar cast and fun choice of a musical encapsulated everything that a high school musical should be. Reservoir students proved that they are some of the “nicest kids in town” with this energetic and vivacious production of one of Broadway’s most lively musicals.