The Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre, currently producing Hairspray, is one of Frederick’s best kept secrets. WOB’s great charm is that it produces big Broadway-style musicals in an intimate dining and theatre venue.
Hairspray transports you to the set of the Corny Collins television show: the action takes place all around you, and you will experience all the nuances of the musical up close in a way that just wouldn’t be possible in the nosebleed section of The Kennedy Center. It’s like watching the show in your living room; you can even smell the Aqua Net.
Indeed, in many ways it’s like attending a friendly dinner party in someone’s living room, because WOB is owned and operated by the Kiska family of Frederick. Bill Kiska does fantastic work directing this production (in the performance I attended, he also covered a role for an actor, making a delightful cameo as a swishy “Mr. Pink”), and sons Justin and Trey Kiska pitch in to help with everything from business management to direction and acting in the productions. You will also be greeted at the box office by the lovely Deb Kiska. Having seen productions at WOB periodically over the past 10 years, I’m extremely impressed with the level of production value the Kiskas have built in this space.
Hairspray, based on the classic John Waters film, follows plus-sized heroine Tracy Turnblad (Shannon Wells) as she attempts to win a spot on the Corny Collins dance show and impress the studly star Link Larkin (Derek John Tatem, a charming all-american boy next door). Along the way, she must battle the bigoted producer Velma Von Tussle (a deliciously Stepford-like Sarah Melinda) and her daughter Amber (a polished Leah Bebee). The story is set against the backdrop of 1960’s Baltimore during the civil rights movement, and the undercurrent of racial tension gives the play substance that makes it so much more than a work of off-beat fluff.
Wells makes an adorable Tracy Turnblad. As iconic mother Edna Turnblad, Jordan B. Stocksdale (also the music director) is – dare I say it?- a bit more fetching than what we’ve come to expect from Divine, Fierstein or Travolta. He makes the role his own by presenting an honest portrayal of a middle-aged woman, which makes us care deeply for her, and he doesn’t rely on a thick “Balty-more” accent to carry his performance. A.P. Kopec, a chipper little ball of energy, portrays Tracy’s father Wilbur with such charisma that some little old ladies in the audience were really swooning. Jeremy Trammelle, another “lady killer,” is appropriately corny as host Corny Collins.
Jordan C. Allen is a real standout as the rebellious heart-throb Seaweed. His striking voice could only be compared to young Stevie Wonder, and I suspect this young man has a bright career ahead of him. Alia Knight-Dahl is big, blonde and beautiful as Motormouth. Her rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been” gives chills and brings down the house.
Kiska’s production moves smoothly and at such a sprightly clip that it would probably be entertaining to a 2 year old. It’s really quite amazing how well he uses the WOB space to create the various locations, and great credit is due to Kiska and his design team (Stocksdale, Susan Thornton, April Horn, Trey and Justin Kiska) for colorful period costumes, creative sets and not-so-far-off-Broadway caliber lighting. The production does suffer a bit from use of pre-recorded accompaniment, but the sound balance works and you will hear every word of Marc Shaiman’s score.
Treat yourself to dinner and Hairspray at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre!
Running time is approximately 2 1/2 hours with intermission.
Hairspray plays through August 2th at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre, located at Willowdale Plaze – 5 Willowdale Drive in Frederick, MD. To make a reservation, call (301-662-6600).