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Conejo Players‘ colorful production of Hairspray has been entertaining audiences since March 17th at their Thousand Oaks auditorium. With two weekends left, I appreciated the offer to come see the show last night with a girlfriend of mine. I’d like to preface this by saying that I have seen some truly great productions at Conejo Players and 2015’s She Loves Me directed/choreographed by Miriam Durrie-Kirsch at Panic! Productions.
|Caleb Heulitt & Paul Panico.
That is probably why it is extra disappointing when you see a production where you are left confused and numb post curtain call. Shall we start with the good parts? Yes, please.
Caleb Heulitt, a last-minute replacement for Edna, was one of the more refined and elegant of Ednas that I have had the pleasure of seeing. He was also one of the more slender too which might have contributed to his grace and poise. And his second act duet with Paul Panico‘s Wilbur was the highlight of the evening.
Speaking of the second act, one actor that seemed to bloom during her eleven o’clock number was Hannah Davey as Motormouth Maybelle.
On the comedic side, Shane Bingham‘s (Corny Collins) facial reactions and interactions with McKenna Tedrick (Amber Von Tussle) were hilarious from start to finish. In fact, Tedrick might have been my favorite lead if it weren’t for her horrendous wig. Apologies to Tedrick but it was very difficult to see beyond her poor wig and even my girlfriend said during intermission that she had been itching to go fix the actor’s wig. She previously starred in YAE’s Legally Blonde where her talents were better highlighted.
In addition to these standouts, the sizable cast must be commended on for their colorful and energetic performance as they most certainly were giving their all! Members of the ensemble that stood out were: the gorgeous Ariel Stewart (Lorraine/Beatnick Chick) and last year’s standout lollypop guild member, Sammy Kirsch, as Bobby.
|Shane Bingham, McKenna Tedrick and Ensemble.
But unfortunately there are also a laundry list of problems with the production that makes it off-kilter. I had hoped that the company could have ironed out those problems by the half way mark but …
I would love to gloss over these details but when my readers might spend $18-20 a ticket based on my review, I have to be honest and share a few disappointments:
– The wigs! I briefly touched upon the wigs earlier but honestly they were atrocious for the most part. Heulitt’s was the most realistic and Abby Cluster‘s (Tracy) was the most recognizable. But sadly that’s where it ends. One wig even looked like it had been a recycled Goldilocks wig. For a show that is called Hairspray I expected better. Especially from the same people who had brought us the gorgeous Side Show only a few months earlier.
– Many of the singers were either breathless and/or finding it difficult to reach those high notes. Disappointing considering the great performance Erin Eichberg (Velma) gave in 2016’s The Wizard of Oz and Carzie Carter (Seaweed) gave in 2016’s Side Show.
– My biggest disappointment with Miriam Durrie-Kirsch‘s direction was her choice to make Penny Pingleton (Joella Bolen) so very annoying! The character is supposed to be “slightly dorky, but lovable” and yet her Penny was VERY dorky and I hesitate to suggest she came across as “intellectually disabled”. The movements were spastic and Penny’s signature bubble gum chewing ended up resembling pulling of taffy because back and forth she would work the gum in and out of her mouth with her fingers. Perhaps this portrayal was based on the recent Hairspray LIVE because I did notice Bolen had her hair in pigtails similar to the media stills of Amanda Bynes and Ariana Grande? Either way, I was unfortunately not alone in cringing whenever Penny was on stage.
– Lastly, it was disappointing to see Becca Peyton‘s sublime talent being wasted as Prudy/Principal and not getting the chance to feature as Female Authority Figure during the second act opening number but that is small fries…
But seriously, if you love the infectious music from Hairspray and are looking to enjoy a night out on the town you will certainly be left humming classics such as ‘I Can Hear The Bells’ after an energetic performance by the Conejo Players ensemble. And kudos to Caleb Heulitt, Paul Panico, Shane Bingham, McKenna Tedrick and the cast who give it their all. Just be forewarned that this is regrettably not one of the theatre’s best productions. And in a time when $20 bills aren’t falling from the trees, I feel it is necessary to give you a full picture of what you will potentially be seeing.
There is also a JR production of Hairspray coming next from the 22nd – 30th of April starring Lyda Harland whom I thought was terrific in YAE’s recent Shrek Jr.