Pity the poor curmudgeonly critic assigned to review a performance—any performance–at the New Theatre Restaurant. Try as he might, he won’t be able to hold back his guffaws while listening to the actors on stage deliver rapid-fire bursts of witty dialogue. If he’s watching a musical, he’ll be hard put to keep himself from swaying in his seat in time to the catchy tunes. And, when it’s time to eat, he’ll be swooning with unabashed glee over the perfectly seasoned entrees and accompaniments.
What’s a curmudgeonly critic to do? There’s just not much of anything he can criticize at the New Theatre Restaurant.
Hairspray, the current musical, is a case in point. First of all, the dining menu is filled with epicurean delights, starting with the extraordinary salad dressings that are served at the start of your meal, before you hit the buffet line. (I can never decide between the equally delicious creamy buttermilk or the poppy seed vinaigrette, so use each variety on half my salad!)
Savor first the mouthwatering side dishes–a grilled vegetable medley, Romas Romano (you will love the garlic-lemon-infused olive oil, topped with roasted herbed breadcrumbs and Romano cheese that is drizzled over the Roma tomatoes), green beans, pasta primavera, half smashed potatoes (these are as decadent as they sound, oozing with gooey cheddar cheese goodness), and polenta.
Then move on to the main courses of the evening—braised pork, simmered in a rich ancho chili-tomato sauce; deep fried basa (a very mild, tender fish), served with a malt vinegar aioli; mandarin chicken, tossed in a sweet and savory Asian-style sauce; and roasted beef tenderloins (so tender that the chunks of beef just melt in your mouth), served with a raspberry-scented veal demi-glace.
The Chef’s Choice is a mild grilled Italian sausage (with the hot stuff on the side, for those with less adventuresome tastes).
Save some room for dessert (which is served during intermission). I tried the frozen strawberry mousse mixed with seasonal berries, served with strawberry sauce, and was not disappointed.
The musical itself won’t disappoint you, either. From the moment that Tracy Turnblad (played with feisty aplomb by Lena Mary Amato) steps onto the stage to belt out Good Morning Baltimore, you fall in love with her, both as a character and as an actor. She is smart, sassy–and happy with her chubby, Plus-Size-clothed body. The disdain showered upon her by her fellow students at Patterson Park High School doesn’t faze her one bit. She’s a free spirit, so positive that she’ll be a star on the Corny Collins show (a local dance show similar to Dick Clark’s American Bandstand), if only she had the chance to audition.
Her mother, Edna (played in drag by Jim Korinke) and father, Wilbur (Jerry Jay Cranford) encourage her dreams, although they’ve both “settled” for less than their own childhood aspirations. The ever-optimistic Wilbur owns a gag gift shop (the Har-de-Har Hut) and Edna operates a home laundry and seems to suffer from agoraphobia. (She hasn’t been out of her apartment in years.)
If you’ve seen the 2007 Hairspray movie, you’ll remember what an over-the-top performance John Travolta gave while playing Edna. Korinke’s portrayal is not as showy, but is often very sweet. (Even though I’ve seen Korinke starring in umpteen Kansas City-area shows, I found it difficult to believe by the end of Hairspray that he wasn’t, in fact, Edna.) The scenes featuring Edna and Wilbur as a loving couple are a real hoot. You will find yourself rooting for this little family, particularly when the parents are being so supportive of their headstrong, yet well-meaning, daughter.
This musical sure has its heart in the right place, too. Ultimately, it’s about the issue of integration in the early 1960s, and how pop music helped bring people of different races together.
The supporting cast members—particularly Inga Ballard (Motormouth Maybelle), Cathy Barnette (Velma Von Tussle), Seth Golay (Corny Collins), Katie Karel (Penny Pingleton), Tim Quartier (Link Larkin), Mandy Morris (Amber Von Tussle), and Marcus Terrell (Seaweed)—are all excellent, as musically talented as they are believable in their roles.
Many of the songs are as catchy as the best bubblegum pop of the early 60’s, particularly Good Morning Baltimore and the rousing You Can’t Stop the Beat at the end. I guarantee that you will have earworms, even days later.
Other music in Hairspray is definitely inspired by Motown. Eboni Fondren, Ayla Glass, and Jennie Greenberry mesmerize the audience with their performance as a Supremes-like trio.
This Hairspray won’t let you down.
Hairspray runs through August 26, 2012 at the New Theatre Restaurant in Overland Park, Kansas. Call 913-649-7469 or go to www.newtheatre.com for tickets.