Matthew Ragas, who played Link Larkin, Tracy's love interest, seemed to have been born to play the delicious crooner heartthrob. Handsome and coordinated, he came pretty close to actually making us swoon when he strutted out in his sexy fitted silver-gray polyester suit, electric guitar slung over his shoulder.
Then he started singing, and it was all over. As he threw his smoky, rich voice to roll perfectly over every note of his romantic rock song, "It Takes Two," we pretended he was directing his studly sweaty gaze directly at us. Just kidding. Kind of.
When Avery Sommers first entered the stage, we thought she seemed an adequate actress to play the part of Motor Mouth Maybelle, the principled, potent female host of the "negro" television dance show.
Her first song went over well, if not very memorably. But during her second song, "I Know Where I've Been," the actress unleashed her breathtaking instrument, bellowing with beauty and conviction in a performance that brought several members of the audience to their feet, though the show was far from over.
This review wouldn't be complete without a mention of David Arisco's "divine" and understated performance as the large and lovely Edna Turnblad. Making no effort to throw his voice, Arisco still succeeded in playing what we slowly came to accept as the enormous yet feminine matriarch.
Few things have made us laugh harder than watching Arisco dance and sing a duet with Hoffman, the diminutive, jolly actor who played husband Wilbur. Hoffman was so comparatively small, he looked as though he could ride around quite comfortably on one of Arisco's giant house slippers. And yet, dare we say, the two had an utterly mesmerizing chemistry as they embraced and melodiously assured each other, "You're Timeless to Me." Weird, hilarious, and captivating, all at once.
Besides the powerhouse cast, the attention to stage design and costumes merits mentioning. Before the curtain opened on Tracy Turnblad's round little body, we were struck by the multicolored, go-go inspired set, every swirl of which was carefully hand painted, thanks to scenic designer Sean McClelland.
And the endless parade of bubblegum-colored outfits the cast bounced, shucked, and jived around in was dazzling. Edna cast a huge shadow in her immense amorphous housedresses; resident evil mother-daughter duo Velma (Kim Cozort) and Amber Von Tussle (Celia Louise Merendi) lit up the scene in pukey, puffy, metallic-swirled chartreuse gowns.
Motormouth Maybelle's gold polyester pantsuit was nearly as loud as her powerful pipes; and Wilbur Turnblad's artistically awful high-water pants, polka-dot shirts, and over-sized corsages, all worn with adorably ignorant confidence, made for an eye-tickling kaleidoscope of polyester that deserved its own standing ovation. Props to costume designer Ellis Tillman.
We could fill pages detailing the obvious effort put forth by each talented cast, orchestra, and behind-the-scenes player. But we'd like to mention one other thing about this show at the risk of sounding like a public service announcement: good for the Actors' Playhouse for choosing a musical that brings some diversity to the stage. South Florida is such a culturally colorful place to live; it's about time we produce and support some popular theater that represents the heterogeneity of our community.
Hairspray runs through November 13th. Shows are 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. and 2 p.m. Sun. Tickets cost $40 to $48. Go to the Actors' Playhouse website or call 305-444-9293.