Hairspray

Also: Love & Taxes, Flo & Glo.

Hairspray

The 5th Avenue; ends Sun., Sept. 26 If you missed this musical adaptation of the John Waters flick when it premiered at the 5th Avenue, do yourself a big favor and run to get tickets. Saw it in 2002? See it again. It's as cheeky and charming as before, and its unbounded, unapologetic happiness seems a tonic for whatever ails you. As Tracy Turnblad, the big-boned teenager out to integrate a local TV dance show in '60s Baltimore, Keala Settle is giving a performance that is actually better than the award-winning one Marissa Jaret Winokur gave here two years ago. Settle is funnier, a true physical comedian, and her agile dancing has far more magnetic joy; you believe she's leaving all the skinny girls in her dust when her transcendent Tracy takes over the floor (something even the charismatic Winokur could never quite achieve). No one here, in fact, is overshadowed by the memory of the original cast. In addition to a top-notch and apparently tireless chorus, the company is full of memorable turns. Chandra Lee Schwartz equals Settle's comic energies as Tracy's pent-up co-conspirator Penny Pingleton, and Austin Miller's Link Larkin is a dreamy teen idol if ever there were one (he's sexy without being boring). Playing Motormouth Maybelle, the formidable black DJ diva who inspires Tracy's rebellion, Charlotte Crossley isn't quite slick enough with her melodic dialogue, but her powerhouse singing is as smooth as silk; the dashing Alan Mingo Jr. matches her as son Seaweed. Susan Cella and Worth Williams are deliciously vile as, respectively, Velma and Amber Von Tussle, the sneering mother-and-daughter team who'd rather die than desegregate. Stephen DeRosa has a handsome, ingratiating goofiness as Mr. Turnblad, and if comedian John Pinette doesn't have Harvey Fierstein's singular presence as big mama Edna, he also doesn't have Fierstein's tendency toward cloying sweetness; Pinette is daffier and more Divine. Most importantly, the production is sly enough to please people who don't like songfests without forgetting to do the job a musical is supposed to do—make you feel really good. STEVE WIECKING Love & Taxes

Intiman Theatre; ends Fri., Oct. 8 There are no boring subjects, only boring writers, and Josh Kornbluth is not a boring writer. In his new solo show directed by David Dower, Kornbluth (Haiku Tunnel) tackles the subject of income taxes and how to utterly fuck up one's personal finances, with a level of intellectual curiosity bordering on awe. Early in the play, Kornbluth describes his project in an address to the audience—to solve the riddle of love using U.S. tax law. It's weirdly ambitious, and Kornbluth, goes after it with an anxiety-riddled sense of purpose. As he tells it, he neglected to pay his taxes for a whole seven years, though it was, ironically, the apparent solution that almost did him in: He hires a "holistic" tax consultant—a touchy-feely accountant belying an almost Melvillean sense of menace—and before he knows it, he's $80,000 in the hole, his fiancée won't marry him until he figures out his "tax thing," and the movie he's made is in hock to said consultant. Kornbluth's depiction of the self-justifying behaviors of intellectual slackers is drop-dead perfect, as is his portrayal of the mental acrobatics endemic to a poor relationship with money. This, much more so than the "love" part, is the real meat of the play. In the manner of all confessionals, his hilarious tale of woe contains a moral—his belief that folks should pay their taxes and do it proudly—and it's his enthusiasm for this truth that keeps the numerous elements of this work in play in a way that is both engaging and instructive. It is this same vim and vigor, however, that overflows its borders, flooding out some of the better moments. Kornbluth has a tendency to overplay emotions and telegraph catharses. The key scene of the play involves a confrontation with a retired federal tax commissioner, in which Kornbluth seeks to lay blame for the unjustly byzantine structures of tax law. When the official utters his final, devastating line, Kornbluth, instead of letting it lie, flashes a slightly hammy look of surprise, and the dramatic impact of the moment is squished. Such a move betrays a lack of trust, either in himself or the audience. It's not a fatal gaffe in a work this rich in lessons about integrity, responsibility, and the duties of citizenship, though Kornbluth certainly could sharpen those lessons by curbing, just a tad, his own enthusiasm. RICHARD MORIN Flo & Glo

JEM Arts Center; ends Sat., Oct. 2 In actors Rhonda Soikowski and Rhiannon Lee, playwright-director Katie McKee has discovered the perfect duo to convey the sweetly absurd and amorphously menacing universe occupied by Flo and Glo, a pair of off-kilter, obese airport workers who sprinkle their snow-shoveling duties with obsessive talk of sex, chocolate, masturbation, happiness, farts, and hunger. This short one-acter, set solely on a lit-up runway, gathers all its weird power from the graceful, full-bodied performances. The show is delivered with a Beckett-like eye for the existential slapstick and ribald physicality of life's grotesques. If it all adds up to nothing, it does so joyously and with conviction, and the ending will leave you strangely chilled. If the idea of David Lynch directing an episode of Laverne & Shirley excites you, this is your play. RICHARD MORIN

 
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