Aaron’s one-minute read: ‘Hairspray’ loses some of its hold

Theater reviewer gives his take on the touring production at Overture Center, plus upcoming must-sees
Hairspray 2
Photo by Chris Bennion and Jeremy Daniel
'Hairspray' runs through Feb. 27 at Overture Center for the Arts.

It remains true that you can’t stop the beat, but it can sure as hell end up feeling muted. That’s the takeaway from the touring production of “Hairspray,” playing through this weekend at the Overture Center. Plus-size pistol Tracy Turnblad, played with relentless energy by Niki Metcalf, wins both the day and her dude, but the notion that integrating a ’60s teen-dance TV show represents a meaningful triumph of race relations seems almost painfully quaint in light of IRL events from the past few years.

The musical doesn’t feel nearly as subversive as it did when it debuted 20 (!) years ago — or, for that matter, when John Waters put a raunchier version on the silver screen in 1988. There’s still plenty of fun positivity here, most of which centers on Andrew Levitt (you know him as Nina West from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”) and their confident turn as Tracy’s mannish mom, Edna. The show’s biggest numbers, like “Welcome to the ’60s,” which is Edna’s coming-out spree, and the show’s finale, “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” get bright pastel, cartoony treatments that really amp the show’s energetic vibe. Others are oddly sparse and feel like they could have been staged by a community theater company. Once upon a time (OK, it was 2006), I described “Hairspray” as “an overcaffeinated puppy dog.” Let’s just say the caffeine’s still flowing.

NEXT MONTH’S PICKS: Your “Prom” date is finally arriving. “The Prom,” Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin’s musical about a group of aging Broadway stars who intervene to help a young lesbian go to her small town high-school prom, is one of the shows that was supposed to be part of last year’s Overture touring Broadway slate, is set to stage in Madison beginning March 23. Overture’s never hosted it before — the show’s only 5 years old — and the stage version is better than Ryan Murphy’s 2020 Netflix film.

Seems like just yesterday we were discussing Children’s Theater of Madison’s move to its new MyArts space on East Mifflin Street — it was actually back in September — and now the company’s only weeks away from debuting its first show there. “Calabasas Street” is a story about a Latino boy who forms an unlikely friendship with the eccentric artist who lives next door. We’re psyched to see how the new space feels and what director Roseann Sheridan will do with it. Not to mention getting some cool new idea for piñatas. “Calabasas Street” run March 12-27.

Aaron R. Conklin writes his award-winning coverage of the Madison-area theater scene for madisonmagazine.com.