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Gateway tops Broadway in LI 'Hairspray' premiere

Burning carbon is blamed for global warming. But in "Hairspray" there's enough of the stuff wafting in the air that you might attribute the greenhouse effect to aerosol cans.

What did they know in 1962? For one thing, they knew how to dance. The agile cast of Gateway's Long Island premiere will have you believing they could shake that thang before assassinations and Vietnam changed the nation's tune. Director Steven Yuhasz's unerring sense of time, place and character - with major assists from designers J. Branson (set), Christopher Landy (lighting) and Tila Torcia (costumes), plus choreographer Josh Walden and conductor Jeffrey Buschbaum - creates a "Hairspray" that surpasses even the 2002 Tony winner.

Young Brooke Shapiro as Tracy Turnblad, the plumpish teen who aches to dance on "The Corny Collins Show," a local "American Bandstand," hits all the right notes - lyrical and comical. Though Velma Von Tussle (Nell Mooney), former Miss Baltimore Crabs, and daughter Amber (Natalie Loftin Bell) dismiss her as "fat," Tracy gains the host's attention at a hop, where she also catches the eye of Amber's steady, an Elvis type played by K.J. Hippensteel.

But making it on Corny Collins isn't enough for Tracy. Her black friends, relegated to the show's once-a-month "Negro Day," taught her to dance. Picketing to integrate the show, Tracy and company are thrown in the clink. But she's liberated in time for the nationally televised dance contest.

But beyond the feel-good message of tolerance, "Hairspray" is fun. You remember fun. What sets Gateway's production apart, however, is the toned-down Edna, Tracy's larger-than-life mom. Played by Harvey Fierstein on Broadway, John Travolta in the movie musical and Divine in the 1988 John Waters original, Edna is - typically for Waters - a scene-stealer in drag. As directed by Yuhasz, Jerry O'Boyle presents a self-conscious Edna, sweetly allowing Tracy to upstage her. O'Boyle is almost as unobtrusive as her hubby (Wayne Schroeder). Their soft-shoe duet, "You're Timeless to Me," re-establishes this understated showstopper as Broadway's greatest postmenopausal love song.

Todrick Hall, a 2010 "American Idol" semifinalist, shows he can dance, too, as Seaweed, love interest to Tracy's pal (Sara Jayne Blackmore.) Their bedroom scene would've gotten them arrested in 1962. Fran Jaye as Motormouth Maybelle supplies the blues consciousness of the show. Steven Beckingham plays Corny, a character based on the late Baltimore TV host Buddy Deane, who hosted a teen-hop TV show back when Waters was a kid. It's a sobering fact that Deane's sponsors canceled his show rather than let it be integrated.

WHAT Long Island premiere of "Hairspray," by Marc Shaiman, Mark O'Donnell, Thomas Meehan and Scott Wittman

WHEN | WHERE 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Tuesdays, 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays; a Gateway Playhouse production at Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, 71 E. Main St., through July 31

INFO $51-$57, $25 students; gatewayplayhousecom, 631-286-1133

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