Connecticut Repertory Theatre shines with 'Hairspray'

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Storrs - posted Tue., Apr. 30, 2013
Tina Fabrique (center) as Motormouth Mabel leads the cast in a musical moment in Connecticut Repertory Theatre's production of 'Hairspray.' Contributed photos. - Contributed Photo

There were some minor glitches during the opening night performance of the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s production of “Hairspray” on April 26—a pitch problem here, a dropped prop there. But that was not enough to mar a show that is, on the whole, a lot of fun and suitable for all ages.

Notable performances include Lena Mary Amato as Tracy Turnblad, making her Connecticut Repertory Theatre debut. Amato won the 2012 SALT award for Best Actress in a Season at The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse for her role as Tracy in Hairspray, according to her bio, and is reprising the role for the fifth time at CRT. Amato has a strong voice, and is suitably endearing in the role of Tracy.

Tina Fabrique as Motormouth Mabel also stands out. Though Mabel is a supporting character in terms of on-stage time, she performs a pivotal song in the show. “I Know Where I’ve Been” is a heavy moment in an otherwise infectiously buoyant musical. It's an anthem about the struggle for racial equality and, according to lyricist Marc Shaiman (with co-writer Scott Wittman), the song almost didn’t make it into the show because of its focus on the civil rights struggle.

"It's too sad. ... It's too preachy. ... It doesn't belong. ... Tracy should sing the eleven o’clock number," said Shaiman in an interview, repeating the opinions of some of the song’s critics. But the song stayed. “Luckily ... the audiences embraced this moment, which enriches the happy ending to follow, and it is our proudest achievement of the entire experience of writing Hairspray,” said Shaiman.

So the song is critical, and demands a suitably strong, confident performer. Fabrique fits the bill.

Second year UConn graduate actor Colby Lewis is strong in the role of Seaweed J. Stubbs, Mabel’s son and the love interest of Tracy’s ditsy best friend, Penny Pingleton.  Lewis is a strong singer, a great dancer, and possesses an energy and charisma that help him to stand out in a scene.

Other notable UConn performers include senior BFA actor Kate Zulauf as Penny Pingleton, junior BFA actor Andrianna Prast as Amber von Tussle and second year graduate actor Sarah Wintermeyer as Velma von Tussle. Senior BFA actor Hannah Kaplan is good as Prudy Pingleton (Penny’s racist mom), but really shines in a couple of brief comic appearances, including as a gym teacher at Tracy’s school and as matron of the jailhouse.

Equity actor Kevin Meaney and UConn professor Scott Ripley collaborated for one of the most memorable numbers of the opening night performance. As Tracy’s mother Edna (Meaney) and father Wilbur (Ripley), the duo played off of each other beautifully. Their chemistry in “You’re Timeless to Me” was hilarious, and earned them an enthusiastic ovation from the audience.

“Hairspray” hits nearly every conceivable musical genre from the 1960s era. It’s an energetic, uplifting show with enough social commentary to give it substance.

The CRT production continues through May 5. Call 860-486-2113 for tickets or for more information. Or go to

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