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'Hairspray' review: Rocking out and shaking things up

Katy Geraghty plays Tracy Turnblad and Sam Leicht

Katy Geraghty plays Tracy Turnblad and Sam Leicht is the object of her affection, Link Larkin, in "Hairspray" at the Argyle Theatre in Babylon. Photo Credit: Richard Termine

WHAT “Hairspray”

WHERE Through Aug. 26, Argyle Theatre, 34 W. Main St., Babylon

INFO $74 ($79 Saturday evenings); 844-631-5483, argyletheatre.com

BOTTOM LINE Feel-good, high-energy musical has audiences out of their seats.

The timely message towers higher than the hairdos in “Hairspray,” the musical borne of the 1988 cult John Waters movie that went full circle with a 2007 film starring John Travolta and Long Island’s own Nikki Blonsky.

The 2003 Tony winner about a perky plus-size teen’s never-say-die crusade to integrate an early ’60s dance show (think “American Bandstand”), is a great choice for the new Argyle Theatre in Babylon, where the entertaining, feel-good musical has audiences dancing right out of their seats.

Katy Geraghty is lovely as Tracy Turnblad, the big-hearted young woman at the center of it all, starting things off with a well-sung “Good Morning Baltimore” as she works her way to school through a crowd of flashers, bums and some not-very-threatening rats. But, as is often the case with this show, her character tends to get upstaged by supporting players. (Recall the 2016 live TV event, when newcomer Maddie Baillio had the scenery chewed out from under her by the likes of Kristin Chenoweth and Jennifer Hudson.)

At the Argyle, Geraghty’s just a tad too low-key to hold her own against the presence of someone like Jason Simon, who plays her mom, Edna Turnblad, in the joyfully over-the-top way one expects from this familiar figure in drag. Inga Ballard is a strong presence as Motormouth Maybelle, the black record store owner who delivers with bravado the show-stopping anthem to inclusion “I Know Where I’ve Been.” And Christina Emily Jackson as Tracy’s timid but brave friend Penny comes out of her shell big time, stealing the thunder in the show’s closing (and most recognizable) number “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”

Directed and choreographed by Antoinette DiPietropolo, the production pops with set designer Diggle’s cutout cityscape that allows John Burkland’s lighting to shine through, and Kurt Alger’s period-perfect costumes (and those increasingly enormous wigs) bubble almost as much as the energetic ensemble. True, the young theater is still fighting through some technical growing pains, but they’re made up for with the palpable enthusiasm that comes from finally having things up and running. (A staff member at the door thanking departing patrons was an impressive touch.)

Ultimately, though, it’s what the show has to say about the ongoing struggles of race relations that has the most impact in this Black Lives Matter era. “There’s a dream in the future,” sings Motormouth Maybelle to a group of kids (and no doubt many in the audience) who clearly want to believe. “There’s a struggle that we have yet to win.”

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