In recent years the Jefferson Peforming Arts Society has tried to ramp up its commitment to musical theatre by presenting some extremely innovative and costly projects. Starting tomorrow night the arts society under the direction of artistic director Dennis Assaf will hit the rarefied air of Broadway glamor and glitz with the unveiling of “Hairspray” at the JPAS Performing Arts Auditorium at East Jefferson High School.
Thanks to a fortuitous alignment of the stars the role of Tracy Turnblad is much more than ably handled by Michelle Dowdy, a veteran of the Broadway stage in the very same starring role. Her voice is magnificent and her dancing is superb. Dowdy is a delight to watch on stage and her very presence seems to elicit the very best performances from her fellow actors.
Having a star of Dowdy’s magnitude with her powerful voice and incredible stage demeanor might be enough to get audiences’ attention. However, practically every other aspect of the show is at the highest caliber of performance. Her on-stage mother Edna is played by local radio broadcaster, TV and film veteran John “Spud” McConnell, who just might be the best New Orleans guy to don a dress since Bobby Hebert.
Danielle Mathis, as Motormouth Maybelle steals the show with her renditions of “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” and “I Know Where I’ve Been.” She is supported by a bevy of beautiful girls in the first number and by the entire cast in the second. Jason George is a standout as Seaweed J. Stubbs, Motormouth’s son, while Jade Thanars does a nice job in her role as his sister Little Inez.
Leslie Limberg, who had the role of Penny Pingleton in the Le Petit version of the show in 2010, absolutely excels as Amber Von Tussle, while Emily Bennett is charming as this production’s Penny.
Kris Shaw settles in with the whoopee cushions with his campy performance as Wilbur Turnblad, Tracy’s dad and Edna’s husband. Meanwhile, Vatican Lokey brings exuberance to the role of Corny Collins, local TV hop host and Adam Carl Payton plays wonderfully off Dowdy as Link Larkin, Tracy’s love interest. Heidi Junius beautifully tackles three female roles as the gym teacher, matron and Penny’s mother, Mrs. Pingleton, while Jimmy deMontluzin does the same great job with four different roles of his own.
Supporting cast members include Keith Claverie, Rachel deJonge, Micah Desonier and Anna Toujas Rosenberg, all of whom could be starring in various roles here or in other productions. It is nice to see them all contribute to make the show better and to be a part of an ensemble with this wonderful musical experience.
Brandt Blocker served as director on the project for JPAS and it is a pleasure to see the former New Orleanian back in town from Atlanta to tackle such a challenge and to emerge victorious while still dealing with his duties in his new home. This is a great welcome home gift he has given his former home. Even the set designs that are typically spartan for JPAS productions are of a considerably higher grade and not in the least bit shaky as designed by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay and Axis Designs. Costumes are by Costume World, while Trish McClain handled the prop designs and Don and Linda Guillot did a tremendous job with all of the wigs required for the actresses. Additionally, Karen Hebert should be credited for bringing out the very best in her dancers with great steps and an effective use of the entire stage and front runway.
Marc Shaiman’s music is conducted with great authority by Ben Childress, who handles the tricky piano parts as one would expect from a virtuoso. The orchestra simply sounds full and rich. Blockbuster numbers like “You Can’t Stop the Beat” and “Welcome to the Sixties” are part of the show’s charm, but even the opening number “Good Morning, Baltimore” sets the standard for how well the singing and dancing that follows.
Lighting design is by Diane Baas and sound design is by Stuart Becnel, both of whom do more-than-creditable jobs.
The good news is that there are seats remaining for what could be the very best musical being presented on stage so far this year. The bad news is that advanced word on the show has made the Saturday night and Sunday matinees virtual if not actual sellouts. Call JPAS at 504-885-2000 for ticket information or click here.