Another Paliku Hit With Hairspray

It’s always a mini adventure driving to Paliku Theatre. A short jaunt over the Pali and you’re on a sprawling campus at the base of the majestic Koolaus with such attractive architecture that the Windward Community College grounds, where Paliku is located, look more like a luxury vacation club. While the outdoor structures bear a classically vintage look, Paliku’s interior boasts elegant wooden paneling, state-of-the-art technical equipment and a steeply sloped seating configuration so that the stage easily can be seen from every seat.

mw-art-100114-paliku2

mw-art-100114-paliku2
Picture 1 of 2

Tracy and Link Larkin (Kaimana Ramos) groove to the music
PHOTOS BY TOM HOLOWACH

Every fall, Paliku puts on a showbiz extravaganza under the direction of Ron Bright and auspices of theater manager and show producer Tom Holowach. The two know how to pump out a crowd pleaser. Consider Les Miz and Phantom, their most recent productions, which both sold out and won numerous Po’okela awards. While there’s no easy way to top those musical masterpieces, they have found a way to satiate the eager theater-going masses: with lots of jovial song and dance, to the tune of Hairspray.

Dance master Marcelo Pacleb, founder and director of the ebullient 24-VII Danceforce, lends his distinct touch as choreographer. Lloyd S. Riford III gives the show dreamy lighting and a two-tiered, eye-candy set, while Lacy Rohlf’s costumes take us back in time … to 1962 Baltimore, to be exact.

Now, to get to the meat of the show. If you’ll recall the original movie starring Ricki Lake, Divine and Debbie Harry — not the unnecessary John Travolta remake — Bright’s version is lighthearted and unthreatening in comparison. His production is all about music and movement, and while it includes some delicately naughty moments, it’s devoid of the all-out campiness that made the original such a cult revelation.

A celebration of marginalized members of society, Hairspray follows the ever-bubbly Tracy Turnblad (Pomai Lopez), who ignores body-image insecurities to compete for, and win, a spot on the Corny Collins Show. Amber Von Tussle (Caitlin Cavarocchi) is the reigning Barbie-ish beauty queen of the teen dance show and doesn’t take kindly to the idea of competing with a portly girl, especially when the show’s heartthrob, Link Larkin (Kaimana Ramos) begins growing mighty keen on kind-spirited Tracy. It helps that Tracy has been learning some groovy dance moves from her black classmates.

That’s the other thing that has her competitors in a tizzy — Tracy is racially color blind.

Under the wigs, cheerful chubbiness and bubblegum romance, Hairspray addresses racial strife and the growing pains of the civil rights movement. There’s a side issue that involves a serious case of child abuse, but even while depicting a psychotic mom tying her teenage daughter to a bed, Bright manages to make the production suitable for all ages. Which begs the question: Without the offbeat quality and edginess of the original, is there a reason to have the role of Tracy’s mom, Edna, be played by a man, except for the sake of paying tribute to the original?

Even so, Bright hit gold in casting Johnny Reed as Tracy’s generously endowed, agoraphobic mama. (Only in the second act did one audience member whisper to her partner, “I think that’s a man.”) Temptation to call him a stand-out is eclipsed by the fact that so is the entire cast. Pomai Lopez is chipper and adorable as Tracy. And Chris Gritti was born to be Corny Collins. It’s no surprise, therefore, to learn that he also played the role three years ago at Diamond Head Theatre. Yvette Umi-Sua’ava brings gospel-strength to her part as Motormouth Maybelle, and Gabe Wright and Emily Maldonado shine as her kids, Seaweed and Little Inez. Tracy Yamamoto is a riot in her three roles as a prison matron, lecherous gym teacher and nightmarish mother (as well as real-life mother) of Tracy’s best friend, the quirky Penny Pingleton (Dani Yamamoto).

A family emergency, however, has called away the Yamamotos as of this writing. Stepping up to Tracy Yamamoto’s roles are brave and capable actors Holly Holowach (Tom’s wife) as Mrs. Pingleton and Lisa Barnes as the matron and gym teacher, with Holly covering all three roles by Oct. 12. Existing cast member Katrina Johnson is filling in as Penny. The show must go on!

And an energetic show it is. In this even-toned production, none of the songs are particular standouts, but they’re all enjoyable. Bright’s son Clarke conducts the live orchestra, while Tracy shakes, bounces and gyrates her heart out, and the cast of nearly 50 falls into step with an incredibly lively display of vocal and dance talent. The bulk of the action happens front stage with visions of more intimate moments unfolding on higher levels. The flexible set features parts that lift, lower and fold, and even incorporate a video screen. Team Bright gives it their all from an opening number that’s sunshine-happy right up to the festive finale, leaving us all warm and fuzzy.

the TICKET stub
HAIRSPRAY

When: Through Oct. 19
Where: Paliku Theatre
Cost: $22-$35
More Info: 235-7310, paliku.com