By Kay Kipling January 17, 2011


If you’ve been feeling a slight case of the post-holiday blahs, I’ve got a cure for your depression: Head on over to the Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre, where they’re hopping and bopping to the beat of the ’60s in a rousing production of Hairspray.


From a reviewer’s point of view, it’s great to see a community theater production that has so much going for it. That’s obvious right from the start, with Donna Buckalter’s cartoony set designs and clever use of movable set pieces, and with a nice, full (by small theater standards) live orchestra in the pit (always so much more energizing to cast and audience).


And then we meet that dancing teen with a heart as large as her hairdo or bra size, Tracy Turnblad. Director-choreographer Rick Kerby got lucky here with his Tracy: Kyle Anne Lacertosa (in “real” life a performing arts teacher at Cardinal Mooney High) not only looks the part of Tracy and sings with the right upbeat exuberance, she’s instantly engaging, winning us over from her first words to Good Morning Baltimore.


In case you’re not familiar with Hairspray (based on the John Waters movie of the same name and featuring music by Thomas Meehan and lyrics by Marc Shaiman), Tracy’s dream is to become one of the dancing kids on the Corny Collins Show on TV--a dream her mother, Edna (played here, as is traditional, by a man, in this case the always game Michael Bajjaly), tries to squash because she knows all too well from her own weight problems how the plump Tracy may find rejection. That’s especially likely because the producer of the show, Velma Van Tussle (smartly played by Melanie Souza), is always scheming to get her daughter Amber (Trina Rizzo, likewise on target), a show regular, in the spotlight.


But Tracy’s a force of nature no one can deny, certainly not the clean-cut teen heartthrob Link Larkin (Kyle Luckett) she’s set her heart on, and not even the segregation of the time, which means black kids can’t be on the show except for “Negro Day.” With loving parents, good friends (including the none-too-bright Penny Pingleton, in a very funny turn by Anna Trinci) and her own indomitable spirit, Tracy’s bound to overcome any obstacle.


Kerby and music director Aaron Cassette work splendidly together to maximize all the fast fun of Hairspray, aided not only by good leads but by a talented, youthful ensemble cast. In addition to the actors already mentioned, I’d single out Brittney Klepper in multiple roles including a gym teacher and a prison warden, and Phyllis Banks for her soulful rendition of the gospel-influenced I Know Where I’ve Been. But really, everyone onstage deserves a big hand.


Hairspray continues through Jan. 30; for tickets call 748-5875 or go to

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