reviewed by Vickie Cornelius Phipps

Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre has a hit for the entire family!

Hairspray, an original American musical, opened on Broadway in 2002. The stage production by Marc Shaiman, Mark O’Donnell, Thomas Meehan, and Scott Wittman was based on the 1988 film by John Walters. Hairspray is set in 1962 Baltimore (“Good Morning Baltimore”) where 60’s dance music is the rage and segregation is firmly embedded in the culture.

The unlikely heroine is Tracy, a quirky and pleasantly plump teen who yearns to dance on the local teenage hit television program. Tracy’s dream comes true when she wins a spot on “The Corny Collins Show.” With her overwhelming positivity and a strong sense of self, she becomes an overnight success and attracts the eye of the most popular guy on the show, Link Larkin. The antagonist and mother-daughter duo, teen queen Amber and the show’s racist producer Velma Von Tussle will not be dethroned. Tracy joins with her friends to fight institutional racism on the small screen and advocates for the show to be fully integrated.


Nina Stilabower (center) as Tracy Turnblad in a scene from Civic Theatre’s production of “Hairspray”.

All ages can appreciate and enjoy this colorful musical with plenty of laughter and love, while learning to embrace who we are. Tracy Turnblad, played by Nina Stilabower, pulls off the big hair and big dreams with a voice to match. Nina is bright and energetic as she teaches us all to look past the color of one’s skin, and fight for equal rights. Tracy’s mother, Edna Turnblad is authentically played by Evan Wallace with sensitivity and sass. Edna, herself held back by her own self-doubt, is comforted by husband Wilbur, (J. Stuart Mill), (“Timeless to Me”) winning everyone’s heart. Justin Klein appears as Corny Collins, TV Emcee of the teen dance show, crooning beautifully in his array of colorful suits. Link Larkin, (Zachary Hoover), the heart throb of the show learns that authenticity triumphs over the limelight.


From left: the Turnblad family – Nina Stilabower as Tracy, J. Stuart Mill as her father, Wilbur, and Evan Wallace as her mother, Edna, in Civic Theatre’s production of “Hairspray”

I must give 4 stars to Jenny Reber who plays Penny Pingleton. Not only did she steal some scenes with her portrayal of the nerdy, clumsy side kick to Tracy, but she didn’t overdo it, finding just the right balance. Velma Von Tussle played by Mikayla Koharchik, who proves once again she can sing anything, and Amber Von Tussle (Emily Hollowell), with comedic selfishness, are the villains you love to hate. Both these ladies give strong performances. Joyce Licorish gives us Motormouth Maybelle, mother of Seaweed and Little Inez, and the host of Negro Day who takes us to church with (“I Know Where I’ve Been”) — Amazing! Micheal Hassell as Seaweed J. Stubbs is adorable and charms us with his dance routines. Little Inez played by Renee Carter is equally talented. High points go to B.J. Bovin playing four different parts particularly well and Jennifer Sutton as the Gym Teacher and Matron.


Evan Wallace as Edna Turnblad takes center stage in a scene from Civic Theatre’s production of “Hairspray”.

This lively and talented cast of characters, directed by Michael J. Lasley, keeps this story rolling and musically rocking from the beginning to the finale. Anne Beck’s choreography, visually exciting and fast paced, takes us straight back to the sixties. The musical direction by Brent E. Marty keeps our toes tapping. The bright and colorful costumes, fitting with the era, are designed by Adrienne Conces. Anyone who remembers big hair, upsweeps, bouffant and beehives, will love these, designed by Hair & Make-up Designer, Andrew Elliot. The set pieces by Scenic Designer, David Rockwell, are innovative and creative and keep the pace of the show moving. Lighting Designer, Ryan Koharchik, sets the mood and matches the excitement.

Presented at the Center for the Performing Arts  in the Tarkington in Carmel, Civic Theatre’s production of “Hairspray” runs now through May 12. For tickets call 317-843-3800 or visit Tickets can also be purchased at

* – Photos by Zach Rosing