hairspray (copy)

High school romance, family, civil rights and big hair are the entertaining strands of the musical “Hairspray” Pictured are Lexie Rains (left), Kaleigh Huser and Lily Mywatt.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson

Electricity and hair don't go together with good results, but the musical "Hairspray,"  this summer's joint production of the Waco Independent School District and Waco Civic Theatre, proves an exception where a cast-wide energy drives solid talent and a witty script.

Smartly directed and choreographed by Aaron Brown, the "Hairspray" company packs a little more than two hours with solid singing, acting, dancing and a positive spirit that's hard to resist.

The musical (songs and score by Marc Shaiman and book by Thomas Meehan and Mark O'Donnell) follows chunky, but exuberant teen Tracy Turnblad (Lexie Rains), who gets a chance to participate on her after-school passion, the dance-driven television show "The Corny Collins Show" in 1962 Baltimore.

Supported by best friend Penny Pingleton (a delightful Kaleigh Huser), Turnblad takes advantage of her opportunity — which includes basking in the glow of teen heartthrob Link Larkin (Nick Atkins) — despite concern from her oversized mom Edna (an engaging and sweetly comic Bill Selby) and Penny's prudish mom Prudy (Cathy Hawes).

Tracy's presence means war for show producer and former beauty show winner Velma Von Tussle (Kristi Humphreys), who sees Tracy as a threat to her equally stuck-up daughter Amber (Lily Myatt) and her chance for fame. Worse, Tracy comes out in favor of integrating "The Corny Collins Show" because, to her, the show's all about fun music and dancing regardless of race.

School detention introduces her to the talented black kids shut out of "The Corny Collins Show" outside of a token "Negro Day," led by Seaweed J. Stubbs (Cameron Dinkins) and Little Inez (Desiree Foley).

Stubbs' mother Motormouth Maybelle (Charity Gaines), a record store owner and the rhyming host of "Negro Day," lends her support to Tracy's cause, which, in turn, leads to street protests, jail time and a climactic showdown at the Miss Teen Hairdo contest with host Corny Collins (a suave and glib Joey Tamayo).

"Hairspray" rumbles like a train through all this with kinetic choreography from Brown and Evelyn Kunch; music that combines solid solos and ensemble singing with a tight offstage combo, thanks to music director Christie Lujan; '60s costuming and wigs from costume designer Geneece Goertzen and stage director K'Lynn Childress; and lighting and sets by Cory Garrett. 

Brown's casting is largely dead-on with an uniformly strong set of principals and an ensemble that crackles in spirited numbers like "The Nicest Kids In Town," "Run and Tell That," "The Big Doll House" and "Without Love." 

"Hairspray" has standout moments as well. Gaines' powerful and heartfelt "I Know Where I've Been," Motormouth Maybelle's testimony to the struggle for civil rights and the prize at its end, nearly stops the show. And Waco Civic Theatre vets Bob Sowder as Wilbur Turnblad and Bill Selby turned Wilbur's love song to his wife, "Timeless To Me," from potential camp to a moment of genuine warmth and charm. 

Opening night saw some minor miking and sound balance problems and one hopes the high energy and drive on its launch continues through its final weekend. (In the interest of transparency, I have a daughter in the company.)

"Hairspray" continues at Waco High's Richfield Performing Arts Center with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday (June 29-July 2).

Tickets are $20 and $18 Friday and Saturday, $18 and $16 Sunday and Thursday, available online at www.wacocivictheatre.org.

Tribune-Herald entertainment editor