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  1. Stage

With big hair and big message, 'Hairspray' opens at Stage West

SPRING HILL — Stage West Community Playhouse opens its 2014-15 season with one of the best, most exciting musicals ever to hit Broadway — the heart-warming, toe-tapping Hairspray, based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name.

Sure, the title sounds frivolous, and, indeed, the show has plenty of good laughs, great big songs and hilarious characters. But Hairspray's messages about prejudice and true love are serious, though never preachy, and always gentle. It won eight Tony Awards in 2003, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score.

Set in 1962 Baltimore, in the midst of the 1960s Civil Rights movement, it's the story of pleasantly plump Tracy Turnblad (Stage West newcomer Karli Marie Gundersen) and her dream of being on the Corny Collins Show, a local TV dance show similar to American Bandstand. Her more-than-pleasantly plump mom, Edna (played in drag by multi-HAMI winner Dalton Benson), fears her daughter will be teased about her size and discourages her.

Tracy's dad, Wilbur (Brian Beach, HAMI as Jean Valjean in Les Miz), owner of the Har-De-Har Hut joke shop, however, tells Tracy to follow her dream.

She's also encouraged by her best friend Penny Pingleton (Brianna Martin). After all, if Tracy is chosen, she can be close to her crush, the handsome heartthrob of the show Link Larkin (Dan Brijbag, HAMI as Hal in Proof). Better yet, it will give her a platform to encourage racially integrating the popular dance show, which she vows to do once she becomes good friends with African-American classmates Seaweed J. Stubbs (McKenzie Freeman), his sister Little Inez (Jada Crandle), their mom, Motormouth Mabel (Janette Cornelius) and their pals.

Penny's mom, the judgmental Prudy Pingleton (Angelena Burrow), is against the dance show and anything to do with it, and she has no idea that her little Penny has fallen hard for Seaweed.

The show's evil producer Velma Von Tussle (Sharyn Beach) is as vehement as Tracy and Penny's moms that Tracy doesn't make the show, since it might cause problems for her spoiled brat daughter, Amber (Victoria Rose Razzano).

For the most part, critics loved the show when it debuted on Broadway in 2002, where it ran for more than 2,500 performances, and when it was made into a movie for the second time in 2007, starring John Travolta as Edna. From upbeat opening number Good Morning Baltimore to spirited closer You Can't Stop the Beat, Hairspray's music adds to the emotion and feel of the show. The poignant I Know Where I've Been by Motormouth Mabel and the ensemble puts the right touch of gravity to the subjects at hand.

Director Leanne Germann has had the cast in rehearsal for several weeks, and a brief segment by the Stage West cast doing one of the big numbers on Facebook portends a rousing good time.