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Broadway Grand Rapids Returns After Nearly Two-Year Hiatus With Hairspray

Broadway Grand Rapids returns with Hairspray, a musical based on the John Waters film.

/Broadway Grand Rapids

On January 12th, 2022, Broadway Grand Rapids returned in the best way possible: with a fast-paced, streamer-shooting, dance-filled show that offered, above all else, fun.

It was a long time coming. Thanks to the pandemic, nearly two years have passed since Broadway Grand Rapids last staged a show. The reopening, long delayed, was delayed further; it was to have taken place January 11th, but positive COVID-19 diagnoses among some cast members prevented that. It was with some relief, then, that I took my my seat on the 12th: this was happening.

Hairspray opens on a sleeping Tracy Turnblad (Niki Metcalf). Tracy, a plus-sized, notably coiffed teenager, launches into "Good Morning Baltimore." It's a great song, reminiscent of sixties girl group tunes (the play's set in 1962). The nostalgia's irresistible, even for those of us who weren't around in the era of car hops and greasers. But there's a subversive edge, too:

"Good morning, Baltimore/There's the flasher who lives next door/There's the bum on his barroom stool/They wish me luck on my way to school..."

Well, yes: this is based on a John Waters movie, after all. Waters has been called The Baron of Bad Taste, The Sultan of Sleaze, and The Pope of Trash; you don't get nicknames like that without earning them. That said, the subversions are mostly mild, and always funny.

Tracy's a dutiful watcher of The Corny Collins Show, on which teens demonstrate the latest dance crazes - the latest white dance crazes, mostly, although, once a month, Negro Day occurs (reminding us that nostalgia has its dangers). When one of the dancers has a need to leave the show (she'll be gone for nine months, tellingly), Tracy sees a chance to audition and achieve her dream: dancing on TV.

If that makes Tracy sound shallow, well, she is; but she's got a big heart, too. Why isn't The Corny Collins Show integrated, she'll come to ask - and, asking it, achieve more than her dreams. The musical premiered twenty years ago, and is set sixty years ago, but audiences will have no trouble finding relevance in its themes.

But musicals are not opinion columns, and Hairspray is more than a message. It succeeds fabulously as entertainment, offering audience members what many of us have missed over the course of the pandemic: the chance to be dazzled, together.

You can learn more, and purchase tickets, at Broadway Grand Rapids | Broadway Grand Rapids

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