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Theater Review:

"Hairspray"

As part of a fundraising event for my kids' school (and that gave me the opportunity, at the lunch that occurred before the show, to see Rachel dancing with the other kids, something she usually does not do), we all hied down to the Ford Center yesterday to see this high-energy, fun show that is in Chicago for only a short time (till February 15).

It's not the greatest Broadway show ever, in terms of impact, but the dancing and the songs are so infectious, you can't help but enjoy it.

It's yet another film ("The Producers" also being one) that you'd never have thought would be adaptable to the stage, but they did it, and did it well. Harvey Fierstein made the role of Edna famous on Broadway, but he is not in the touring company.

They made a very wise choice, at least for the Chicago audience, by choosing Bruce Vilanch, a Chicago native and long-time comedy writer (he's written the Oscar TV show for many years, among others) to play this role. He's terrific, as is 19-year-old Carly Jibson, who plays Tracy Turnblad, a Baltimore teenager in 1962 whose only ambition, at first, is to appear on a local TV show to dance, like all the "cool kids".

But this show turns into something much more, as you see the beginnings of what is to become the protests of the 1960's, when Tracy's "competition", Amber, and her mother, who is the producer of the TV show, conspire to keep a group of young black kids off the show, even though, as Tracy says, "all we want to do is dance together."

As I said, the songs are fun and the whole show is very high-energy and staged well, with the lighting and the costumes full of bright primary colors. Many of the jokes are well over the heads of the kids who were in the audience, but they weren't "off-color", and you can easily take school-age children to this show.

Bruce Vilanch got off a couple of really good lines when a gimmick didn't work exactly as expected; it involved a rubber chicken (you have to see this to get it), and when the chicken just sat there, Vilanch paused a moment, then yelled "AFLAC!!" at it, and then said "I guess this doesn't work on Sundays"... paused again, then said, "Gee, just like those trucks that sit around all day here doing nothing." That got a big laugh, but he capped it off by saying, "And here I paid that former governor all this big money to make sure they got their licenses... I can't pronounce the new one!"

That's the mark of a real professional, who can take a live theater performance that doesn't quite work the way it's supposed to, and turn it into big laffs for the audience, in a totally unexpected way.

Like "The Producers" and "The Lion King", this show is only in Chicago for a short time, and that's too bad. For some reason, recent touring shows haven't stayed long here, even though they could have easily sold out for a year or more. It goes from here to Minneapolis, St. Louis, Phoenix (Tempe), San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles later this year, so if you're in any of those towns, go out and have a fun time at the theater.

AYRating: ***