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Regime Change

A refreshing new cast for Hairspray—especially sweet, innocent Carly Jibson and Michael McKean as a credible Edna.


Carly Jibson and Michael McKean in Hairspray.  

It’s only right that a critic should re-review new casts in long-running shows; not everyone gets to catch the original cast, and the replacements can be equal, worse, or sometimes even better. Accordingly, I checked out Hairspray, still going gangbusters. Though it is uncivil to cite predecessors by name and set up invidious comparisons between two specific actors, I must name Harvey Fierstein, who created Edna Turnblad, now played by Michael McKean.

McKean may be somewhat less deliciously outrageous than Fierstein, but he makes up for it with clearer enunciation and, to the extent that is possible in this context, greater credibility. Later Hairspray audiences will not be shortchanged.

As the third Tracy Turnblad, 19-year-old Carly Jibson strikes me as superior to the original Tracy and also, as I gather from reliable sources, her immediate successor. What Jibson has, on top of fine singing, dancing, and acting, is a special sweetness, innocence, and charm, softening naked ambition. All others in the cast, whether holdovers or newcomers, do very nicely indeed, thanks in part, I assume, to Jack O’Brien’s expert direction. There is only one serious loss: As Baltimore’s teen idol, Link Larkin, Richard H. Blake falls well short of the originator. But the show continues to be foolproof, being cunningly so conceived as to realize that fabled dream: something for everyone.

Highbrow or lowbrow, overweight or underachiever, gay or straight, black or white, Gentile or Jew, liberal or—no, not that!—you will find something there to feast on.


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