Review by Iris LeCates, Walnut Hills High School Cappies Critic Team
Vivid, shimmering, effervescent— it is easy to think of the 60's as what we've seen on television, merely a collection of shiny dresses and twinkling lights. Beneath that, however, were the rumbling undercurrents of revolution as the Civil Rights Movement took hold of the nation. With all of the dazzling escapism of 60's pop culture and the terrifying realities of centuries-old injustice, Seven Hills School's "Hairspray!" sets out to tackle it all with an unlikely weapon: dance.
The musical "Hairspray!" opened on Broadway in 2002 and is based upon the 1988 movie of the same name. It tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a curvy high schooler desperate to dance on the Corny Collins Show, an afterschool broadcast of Baltimore's most talented teenagers. When she is sent to detention, she meets Seaweed J. Stubbs and a crew of talented African-American girls. After she lands a role on the Corny Collins Show using their dance moves, she embarks on a journey to integrate the show, overcome stereotypes about plus-sized girls, and win the title of Miss Hairspray.
Hannah Levin was superb as Tracy Turnblad. A triple threat, she was a moving actor, an enthusiastic dancer, and a stunning vocalist. Whether belting "Good Morning Baltimore" or bopping along to "You Can't Stop the Beat," she was a driving force of the show.
Two other standout performances were those of Rosalind Roland as Seaweed J. Stubbs and Gabrielle Christmon as Motormouth Maybelle. Roland was an excellent dancer and a powerful actress, but her chemistry with Penny Pingleton (Hannah Kelly) was most enticing. Naive and purposefully clumsy, the evolution of their forbidden relationship was charming. Christmon's shining moments often involved her excellent vocals, particularly in the song "I Know Where I've Been, " an iconic 11 o'clock number where she beautifully grounded the production in the terrifying reality of race relations in America.
In a world seemingly full of tumultuous relationships, Edna (Adam Firestein) and Wilbur Turnblad (Stephen Walsh) are exactly the couple to be gracing the stage. In the heartwarming duet "Timeless to Me," they were both hilarious and endearing. Dancing and twirling across the stage, Edna sang of Wilbur's receding hairline, as Wilbur lamented Edna's inability to stop eating, both agreeing that time only strengthened their love. It was a refreshing take on a couple able to love each other not only ‘in spite of,' but also ‘because.'
The technical elements of the show lifted the production to new heights— and that's not just in reference to the excellent (and period!) hair design. Although follow spots were occasionally messy, the lighting design was eye-catching and colorful. It helped to differentiate the Corny Collins set from reality by dropping the first electric and making fixtures visible to the audience, a creative and effective addition to the design.
The standout technical element was the projections, designed by Maddy Kennebeck. Although they served many functions, chilling Civil Rights footage shown throughout the production was the most impactful. Amidst the euphoria of curtain call, the lights dimmed, and the voice of Martin Luther King Jr. boomed through the auditorium. Clips of marches from the Civil Rights Movement were projected onto the brick facade of the set, ending the show in a culminating moment both reflective of the progress we've made and as a testament to the work still left to do.
On the surface, "Hairspray" is an upbeat story about teenage hope. However, it is also a reminder that change is affected only by personal sacrifice, hard work, and an overwhelming dedication to justice— themes executed perfectly by the cast and crew of Seven Hills' "Hairspray."
Review by Grace Erickson, Mariemont High School Cappies Critic Team
The year was 1962, and conflict was brewing within the streets of Baltimore, Maryland. Racism, bigotry and discrimination were pervasive, and tensions were heightened during this turbulent era. The Civil Rights Movement was nearing its climax, and the nation was on the brink of long- awaited change. The strife and heart-wrenching hardships felt by African-Americans during this time is powerfully portrayed in Seven Hills High School's passionate presentation of the musical, "Hairspray!"
Like most teen girls of Baltimore, Tracy Turnblad dreamed of performing on the Corny Collins Show and being loved by local stud, Link Larkin. On her journey to stardom, Tracy defies societal standards, fights for equality, and is ultimately victorious in challenging the world to let go of the past and move towards a new, integrated era. Welcome to the 60's!
The spirited company of this production performed arduous choreography orchestrated with clear consideration to stylistic elements of the historical period. The cast rose to the challenge of mastering authentic and demanding dance routines to an unstoppable beat. The strong and sonorous vocals of the chorus were particularly impressive. Their colorful voices blended together beautifully and filled the theater to entirety.
In her performance as Tracy Turnblad, Hannah Levin fervently takes to the stage, dancing to the radical rhythm of progress. Her broad and resonant voice was a force to be reckoned with. Adam Firestein enthralled the audience in his beloved performance as Tracy's masculine mother, Edna. Firestein gave an admirable edge to his sincere and delightful role. Firestein laudably embodies his role as a powerful, standout woman. His performance was an unfeigned delight.
What's the only thing better than Ultra-Clutch Hairspray? Certainly, it's Mark DeBlasio's charming performance as the extravagant Corny Collins. DeBlasio's eccentric stage manner brought captivating energy and life to the production. Peculiar and floppy- haired, Stephen Walsh bumbled about the stage in his comic portrayal of Tracy's offbeat father, Wilbur. Walsh's dry humor and boisterously merry disposition brought light and laughter to the show. More remarkable was the relationship between characters Seaweed (Rosalind Roland) and Penny Pingelton (Hannah Kelly). Both actresses were incredibly talented and delivered ravishing performances. The relationship between these two characters is unique to Seven Hills High School's production, as Seaweed was cast as a female role, meaning their romance was an interracial, homosexual relationship. This progressive element added to the timeless relevance the story continues to possess.
The impressive command of tech elements by the crew was critical to maintaining fluidity throughout the show. Maddy Kennebeck and Freya Li headed special effects/technology which took the form of projections used to rapidly execute dramatic scene changes. This eliminated the need to ever move the set. The projections accurately and effectively situated the story in history. The use of powerful imagery from the Civil Rights Movement and audio recordings from the honorable Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. highlighted the broader seriousness of the musical's subject matter in relation to national events.
In the closing song, "You Can't Stop the Beat," the audience joined the cast by singing and dancing to the familiar tune. This was particularly powerful, as the show teaches that no matter who you are or where you come from, everyone should be able to dance together. In Seven Hills High School's production, no one was an outsider.
Review by Kelly Oberst, Larry A. Ryle High School Cappies Critic Team
Energetic. Stunning. Powerful. These three words only begin to scratch the surface of the true remarkability of The Seven Hills Upper School's theatre department, Stage SEVEN's, production of "Hairspray!" From several comedically energized moments to the relaying of important messages addressing equality, the cast and crew truly never missed a beat.
A Tony Award-winning musical, "Hairspray!," set in 1960's Baltimore, follows the story of the ambitious and confident Tracy Turnblad in her efforts to become a dancer on The Corny Collins Show. After making it onto the show, Tracy soon becomes its star. In exuding messages of body positivity, the show also focuses on the race for racial equality that was taking place in The Civil Rights Movement of the time. After having detention with Seaweed J. Stubbs and other African-American students, Tracy, with the help of these characters and a few others, takes steps to desegregate The Corny Collins Show and make it a place where everyone can dance together, regardless of their outside appearance.
Acting as Tracy Turnblad herself was Hannah Levin who depicted her character's determined and energized nature in an entirely convincing manner. She also had stunning vocals that she was able to control and fluctuate beautifully through the shifting moods of each song. Tracy's mother, Edna, was portrayed by Adam Firestein. Taking on this strong female role, Firestein was effortlessly able to illustrate Edna's transition from a doubtful woman lacking in confidence, to the bold and fearless spirit that she truly embodies.
Other notable performances included that of Will Kohnen who was convincing as the teen heartthrob, Link Larkin. Hannah Kelly was wonderful as the slightly awkward, yet supportive best friend, Penny Pingleton, while Rosalind Roland rocked the stage as the cool, calm, and collected Seaweed J. Stubbs. Together, the two were able to create a striking message about further equality for all. Furthermore, Stephen Walsh's comedic timing as Wilbur Turnblad was impeccable with Firestein and him making an extremely memorable duo. Mark DeBlasio played Corny Collins and mastered the theatrical nature of his character, while Annika Halonen and Allison Huffman were great at playing the mean and wicked in their respective roles as Velma and Amber Von Tussle. Additionally, Gabrielle Christmon was powerful in her role as Motormouth Maybelle with stunning vocals that especially stood out in her mesmerizing rendition of "I Know Where I've Been." The ensemble was also very energized and alert throughout.
Led by stage manager, Elyse Stieby, the crew also did an exceptional job throughout and during the show's process. Lighting designer and light board operator, Madeleine Magruder, took two weeks of preparation to create over 250 light cues that effectively added to the show's different moods. Hannah Kelly, Adam Firestein, and other crew members put much hard work into the designing of T-Shirts, posters, and the theatre program's social media page to promote the show. One of the most striking elements of the production was the use of projections designed by Maddy Kennebeck and operated by Freya Li, which not only helped differentiate between settings, but also depicted many compelling videos from the 1960's Civil Rights Movement. Designed by Taylor Hauter and executed by many crew members, the set was creatively made, while the hair and makeup crew stayed true to period and the show's overall style.
With an ending that illustrated that the fight for equality is never truly done, Stage SEVEN took a remarkably unique spin on the timeless show which effectively sparked a call to action for the validation and acceptance of everyone, no matter what they look like.
Excerpts from Top Reviews
“Playing the lead in a musical can often be vocally exhausting, but Hannah Levin, who played Tracy Turnblad, possessed a voice that was unfaltering as she hit almost every note with expertise and staggering enthusiasm, right through the final curtain. Adam Firestien showed a very clear dedication to the difficult to navigate role of Edna as he crafted a sexy, yet comforting parental figure in the most poignant moments.”
-Aiden Litmer, Walnut Hills High School
“The lighting crew, consisting of Madeliene Magruder, Elena Wilson, and Anand Patil utilized complex color storying and dramatic washes to artfully convey different settings within the story. From romantic pink washes in "I Can Hear the Bells" to dramatic designs in "The Big Dollhouse", the lighting design added a flavor of professional quality to the production.”
-Reeya Dighe, Walnut Hills High School
“Tracy's mother, played by Adam Firestein. In the role of Edna Turnblad, Firestein provided a fresh take on the character with the fearless belting of a tenor and brilliant chemistry in every relationship forged on stage. Together, Levin and Firestein beautifully crafted a symbiotic mother-daughter relationship.”
-Sophia Rooksberry, Walnut Hills High School
“Seven Hills' production was profoundly enhanced by its highly-advanced technical elements. Projections, designed by Maddy Kennebeck and executed by Freya Li, transformed the stationary set and allowed for seamless scene changes, expertly facilitated by stage manager Elyse Stieby. In addition, these projections allowed for poignant moments to shine, highlighting footage of Civil Rights protests and ending the performance with a powerful excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop."”
-Juli Russ, Highlands High School
“On the note of queer representation, the distinct choice of gender bending one of the show's male leads, Seaweed J. Stubbs, as a female proved to elevate the message of acceptance tenfold. Without missing a beat, Rosalind Roland played Seaweed with swagger, sweetness, and sensational charm, jiving and vibing for the audience to fawn over.”
-Matthew Eggers, Walnut Hill High School
“The costumes in the show looked as if they were plucked right out of the 60's. Additionally, a unique aspect of the show was that projections were used throughout. Maddy Kennebeck designed these historically accurate projections, and Freya Li executed the changing of projections for each scene. These projections enhanced scenes by adding images and video clips from the 1960's to better portray different settings. Despite having a stationary set, many different scenes were successfully portrayed throughout the show.”
-Annie Farkas, Ursuline Academy
“Gabrielle Christmon as Motormouth Maybelle was nothing short of a highlight. Christmon's ethereal vocals in the moving "I Know Where I've Been" were more chill-inducing than a cold Baltimore morning, and her character's supportive nature guided other cast members as they all navigated the rough path to social justice.”
-Nadya Ellerhorst, Walnut Hills High School
About The Cappies of Greater Cincinnati
The Critics and Awards Program strives to recognize Greater Cincinnati’s talented community of young writers, performers, and technical crews. High school theatre and journalism students who participate in the Cappies program are trained as critics, attend shows at other schools, and write and publish reviews. At the end of the school year, the student critics vote to give awards to their fellow students for outstanding productions, group and individual performances, and achievements in technical categories. Awards are presented at the annual Cappies Gala. Find more reviews at CinciCap.com/reviews.