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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Case for Prosecution

As the January 6 Select Committee continues to unveil through witnesses and documents more evidence that former President Donald Trump may have committed punishable crimes, the question becomes not will he be prosecuted but should he.

To be sure, there is a cornucopia of possible crimes committed by Trump from inciting a riot, to seditious conspiracy to witness tampering and a whole bunch in between. The panel has been so effective in bringing these indiscretions and possible crimes to the surface that three in five Americans believe Trump should be prosecuted. And that is before Cassidy Hutchinson’s explosive testimony given to the Select Committee and to the viewing public on June 28.

Since I am not a lawyer, I will gladly yield the floor to the legal experts who can debate whether Trump has committed crimes that could lead to an indictment. They can argue whether or not the evidence is sufficient to prove a federal case beyond a reasonable doubt. But if the evidence exists and is compelling enough to take it to a grand jury, then yes, the Department of Justice should proceed and prosecute even though a conviction would be improbable.

In advocating against a potential prosecution of Trump, several conservative columnists have summoned up President Gerald Ford’s pardoning of disgraced Richard Nixon prior to a likely indictment as a means to heal the county. He took this action in an effort to put the Watergate episode behind us, and as a result, he damaged himself politically.

Though Nixon’s lying to cover up a botched burglary of Democratic headquarters at the Watergate was and remains a national stain, it does not even come close to the severity of conspiring to execute a coup in an attempt to overturn a lawful election. Moreover, the country was not nearly as divided it is today making it easier to heal.

Following Trump’s “fight like hell” command at his infamous rally at the Ellipse, he knowingly dispatched armed insurrectionists to the People’s House. Seven people lost their lives directly or indirectly with hundreds of police officers injured, many seriously on that fateful day. Millions of dollars of property damage resulted, and the Capitol was so violated and defaced, the riot seen all over the globe became a national embarrassment.

The healing concept offered by opponents of prosecuting Trump is intriguing, but it is one-sided. Prominent Republicans vowed to go on a revenge tour should they reclaim both chambers of Congress regardless of whether or not Trump is indicted.

They have already tipped their hand when senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham—all of whom were personally humiliated by Trump during the 2016 primaries and have become pathetic Trump sycophants—support impeachment proceedings concerning President Biden.  House Republicans promise endless investigations, and, of course, private citizen Hunter Biden, the boogeyman of the MAGA crowd, will be front and center.  Never mind their likely push to roll back hard-fought rights at the federal and state levels that may include dismantling popular entitlement programs will be on the agenda. That’s not healing.

Declining to prosecute Trump for provable crimes will not heal the country, especially if the blood-thirsty vengeful Republicans are in charge. In fact, not punishing someone who was and continues to be a stake through the heart of our democracy and the rule of law will be a tragic mistake and something our nation will not recover from for many years. Without setting an example, this blot on our history could repeat itself.

If the anti-prosecution folks are so bent on healing the country, they should have persuaded Trump to concede the election in the first place and allow a peaceful transition of power—the hallmark of our democracy.  And they should have voted to certify the election results.

What good is healing if we do not have accountability, a democracy or rule of law? 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Absorbing 'SpongeBob' Delights at Toby’s

When I reviewed The Little Mermaid at Columbia’s Toby’s Dinner Theatre some four years ago, I promised I would avoid the temptation of flooding the review with fish puns. Alas, I couldn’t help myself and caved.

With The SpongeBob Musical now playing at Toby’s, I promise once again not to bring to the surface any fish jokes or puns although the show is set at the bottom of the sea. The names of the characters do the job for me: Sheldon Plankton, Squidward Q. Tentacles, Perch Perkins, Mr. Krabs, Larry the Lobster, SpongeBob—you get the picture.

The SpongeBob Musical is an adaptation of Nickelodeon’s long-running animated children’s sitcom of the same name created by Stephen Hillenberg. It features a book by Kyle Jarrow, with an eclectic array of original songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alexander Ebert of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, Lady A, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, They Might Be Giants and T.I., and songs by David Bowie, Tom Kenny and Andy Paley. Each song in the musical is composed by a different artist.

Additional lyrics are by Jonathan Coulton, with additional music by Tom Kitt. The musical production was conceived by Tina Landau and received 12 Tony Award nominations in 2018 including Best Musical.

Conductor Ross Scott Rawlings and the six-piece orchestra ably support the talented performers’ vocals and dancing. Nathan Scavilla leads the orchestra at other performances.

The SpongeBob Musical at Toby’s is an eye-pleasing, fantasy romp that both children and adults will enjoy. Helen Hayes Award winning Mark Minnick gives a master class in directing as the energetic cast is placed in perpetual motion throughout with impeccable timing, pace and staging. Mr. Minnick and choreographer David Singleton utilize every inch of the in-the-round stage and then some as the performers also find their way on the steps around the stage and the balcony.

The SpongeBob Musical is set in a town beneath the sea called Bikini Bottom—the name of Toby’s specialty beverage for the duration of the run. Lighting Director David A. Hopkins maintains an aqua blue quality throughout most of the production depicting the underwater environment.

"The SpongeBob Musical at Toby’s is an eye-pleasing, fantasy romp that both children and adults will enjoy."

Scenic/Properties Designer Shane Lowry allowed his imagination and creativity to take over with an expansive assortment of thematic decorations and props. He used recyclable items that typically wind up in the bottom of the ocean as trash to make an important point about the environment. (See Mr. Lowry’s statement at the conclusion of this review.)

Despite the underwater setting, rest assured the creative team and management has made every effort to keep the patrons and Toby’s delicious buffet dry throughout. There is no need to bring a snorkel.

The musical calls upon the audience to imagine this undersea town and the goofy characters that inhabit it. Dispense with logic for a couple of hours as it would otherwise be difficult to conceive how a squirrel named Sandy Cheeks with scientific expertise and possessing the magical voice of Janine Sunday who plays her could survive underwater. Or how the residents of Bikini Bottom could welcome a sunrise while being so deep beneath the sea. But this is make believe, and in Bikini Bottom, anything goes.

The story centers on an impending volcanic eruption from nearby Mt. Humongous that threatens to decimate the town and its colorful inhabitants within 48 hours. A perennially cheerful and optimistic sea sponge named SpongeBob (played magnificently by Kyle Dalsimer) sets out to save the town and prove he is not “just a simple sponge” as he was accused of being by miserly Eugene Krabs (Jeffrey Shankle), manager of the Krusty Krab restaurant.

With his BFF Patrick Star (DeCarlo Raspberry) and his friend, the aforementioned Sandy Cheeks (Janine Sunday) in tow, SpongeBob attempts to climb Mt. Humongous to intervene and prevent the seemingly inevitable eruption. They endeavor to overcome their own lack of self-esteem and confidence as well as a pair of antagonists, Sheldon Plankton (Joey Ellinghaus) and Karen the Computer (Amanda Kaplan) who want to thwart the effort. In the rather predictable conclusion, all works out despite the obstacles.

Making his Toby’s debut, charismatic Kyle Dalsimer brings tons of youthful exuberance and athletic agility to the title role. A triple threat for sure, Mr. Dalsimer has a wonderful tenor voice and demonstrates his ability to hold long notes. He is called upon to perform in many of the show’s songs with other members of the cast and stands out in the solos “Bikini Bottom Day” and “Simple Sponge.” He also is excellent in the snappy group number “Best Day Ever.”

In an exhaustingly physical role, Mr. Dalsimer moves about the stage with grace and power like he has wings on his feet while his acting skills shine in portraying the sunny, happy-go-lucky character.  

As SpongeBob’s best friend Patrick Star, Helen Hayes Award winner DeCarlo Raspberry brings his own set of talents to the fore. He is also a top-notch vocalist as evident in the duet “BFF” and the outstanding group number “Super Sea-Star Savior” with a group of sardines, no less, which has a revival feel.

Patrick, a starfish, is kind of dim-witted. Yet, some of the Bikini Bottom residents including those sardines clad in shiny costumes think he’s a genius and made him a guru of some sort, which threatened the BFF status with SpongeBob. Spoiler alert: they do reconcile and join forces to conquer Mt. Humongous. Mr. Raspberry portrays that comedic character adroitly.

As the denigrated scientist-squirrel Sandy Cheeks, Janine Sunday is wonderful. Her lovely singing voice is always a joy, and she excels in “Hero Is My Middle Name” with Mr. Dalsimer and Mr. Raspberry and the duet “Chop To The Top” with Mr. Dalsimer.

Making a welcome return to Toby’s is Helen Hayes nominee Darren McDonnell as the 4-legged octopus (yes, there are 4 legs) Squidward Q. Tentacles—my favorite name in the show. Constantly reminded of being a loser, Squidward is determined to overcome the label.

Mr. McDonnell performs very well with the song “I’m Not A Loser” in a superb tap-dancing number with the ensemble. Tap dancing is quite a skill to possess; dancing with 4 legs is definitely a challenge and Mr. McDonnell pulls it off. In addition, his facial expressions and demeanor throughout are priceless.

The versatile Jeffrey Shankle plays greedy Eugene Krabs, the manager of the Krusty Krab, with flair. Mr. Shankle performs well with Jordyn Taylor who plays the role of Mr. Krabs’ daughter Pearl in the duet “Daddy Knows Best.” It is striking that he will not let go of Rocky’s boxing gloves from Toby’s previous production. 

Other notable members of the extraordinary cast include excellent Joey Ellinghaus and Amanda Kaplan as the villains Sheldon Plankton and Karen the Computer, respectively;  Jordan Stockdale as the comedic Patchy the Pirate; Justin Calhoun as Perch Perkins who acts as a sort of narrator; Santina Maiolatesi as the Mayor of Bikini Bottom who loves to create myriad task forces to analyze problems; Crystal Freeman as Puff; Shane Lowry as Larry the Lobster in addition to his set design duties, David James as the hilarious Old Man Jenkins who demands that these creatures get off his lawn; Mr. Lowry joins Brandon Bedore and Quadry Brown as the roller skating act “The Electric Skates";  Michael Pantazis as French Narrator; and Alexis Krey, Ariel Messeca, and Patricia ‘Pep” Targete as part of the energetic ensemble.

Choreographer David Singleton adeptly put the cast through the paces with some very spirited and vigorous production numbers including “When The Going Gets Tough,” “I’m Not A Loser,” “SpongeBob Theme Song.”

Sound Designers John Pantazis and Nathan Scavilla do a fine job with the audio and inserting well-placed sound effects throughout.

And this show boasts simply spectacular costumes designed by Flo Arnold with contributions from Janine Sunday as well as Wig/Hair Designs by Jayson Kueberth. There are tons of brilliantly colorful and imaginative costumes that add much to the spectacle.

The SpongeBob Musical is a solid show throughout highlighted by an outstanding lead performer Kyle Dalsimer and an energetic talented cast and crew. Under Mark Minnick’s direction, the production moves smoothly and meticulously and brings all the elements together in a cohesive manner.

Adults will enjoy the quality of the entertainment, the music and the messaging contained therein; children will absolutely love it—hook, line and sinker. (Ugh! I knew I couldn’t hold out.)

Running time. Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

The SpongeBob Musical runs through July 31 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the Box Office 410-730-8311 or visiting here as well as Ticketmaster.

Photos: Jeri Tidwell Photography


Statement From Scenic/Property Designer Shane Lowery

There are close to 8 million metric tons of plastic trash that pollute our oceans each year, and it destroys thousands of aquatic ecosystems every day. If we continue to dump our trash into the sea, in the next 30 years there will be more trash than fish in the ocean.

This performances’ environment is made up of donations of: over110 milk jugs, 300 water bottles, 100 metal cans, 200 plastic containers, over 150 pool noodles and many other unwanted recyclable objects. Recycling isn’t always separating the metal from the plastic. In this case it is looking at things from another perspective and giving them a new life and purpose.

It has been an absolute joy to allow my inner child out and to create this unique playground that forces the inner imagination out of us. Special thanks to the cast, crew and staff at Toby’s for all their recycling donations!

To learn more about what you can do to save our oceans, visit here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Howard County Exec Announces Plans for LGBTQIA+ Commission

Under the “People’s Tree” near the Columbia lakefront, Howard County (MD) Executive Calvin Ball announced at a press conference on June 22 the filing of legislation that would permanently establish the current LGBT Workgroup as a formal LGBTQIA+ Commission.

The new Commission would follow the work of the LGBTQ Workgroup launched in 2019 by County Executive Ball.

“This commission will help move Howard County forward and will identify best practices to affirm members of the gay and transgender community; recommend initiatives to support LGBTQIA+ families and children; and advise us on policy and programs that impact our gay and transgender community, and on how to improve outcomes for underserved and at-risk members of the LGBTQIA+ population,” said County Executive Ball in his opening remarks in front of a crowd that included members of the LGBTQ Workgroup, county employees, members of the county’s Human Rights Commissioners and LGBTQ activists and allies as well as elected officials, representatives and candidates.

He added, “The Commission will support, plan, and help execute events, like PRIDE, to celebrate and affirm our community.”

The plan requires the approval of the county council and will be filed in July.

The commission will have the following responsibilities:

 ·         Support efforts to organize, educate, and mobilize the LGBTQIA+ community through coalition building and coordination with allied individuals, groups and organizations;

 ·         Identify best practices to affirm members of the gay and transgender community;

 ·         Recommend initiatives to support LGBTQIA+ families and children; and

 ·         Advise the County on policy and programs that impact our gay and transgender community, and on how to improve outcomes for underserved and at-risk members of the LGBTQIA+ population.

 ·         Support, plan, and execute events, like PRIDE, to celebrate and affirm the community.

Besides County Executive Ball, speakers at the event included Yolanda Sonier, Administrator of the Office of Human Rights and Equity; Byron Macfarlane, Register of Wills; Bob Ford, Howard County Human Rights Commission; Jumel Howard, President of PFLAG- Howard County and community member Vicki Weiss Vivrette.

Later that evening,  the George Howard Building was bathed in rainbow-colored lights 


The texts of Calvin Ball’s remarks as well as those from some of the other speakers are shown below.

Good morning and happy PRIDE!

 It’s wonderful to be here today, surrounded by friends and familiar faces. We’ve been through a lot the past few years. The pandemic exacerbated a lot of the challenges already present in our community...and we were in an environment where our national leaders were fueling campaigns to make our LGBTQ residents feel like second-class citizens.

 Despite these tremendous obstacles—that, at times, seemed insurmountable, we’ve made progress over the past few years to establish thoughtful, inclusive, and affirming policies that allow all our residents to proudly be themselves and demonstrate that Howard County is a community where everyone is welcome.

 We’ve added a LGBTQ liaison for our public school system and increased mental health funding to support our students.

 We hosted our first ever PRIDE parade in 2019.

 And today, we continue to develop affirming resources for all our departments and service providers – so that all our residents feel seen.

 Despite the progress we’ve made here in Howard County, we’re seeing increasing attacks on gay and transgender equality across our country – and it’s naïve to think that those conversations will not impact our community.

 While Maryland offers many protections, it's legal in 29 states to fire employees just because they’re gay, and in 35 states because they’re transgender.

 It’s also legal in these states to deny housing to gay and transgender people.

That makes our work here even more important, to serve as a beacon and a model for other

communities on how to protect the equality of all our residents, and how to be inclusive and welcoming to all.

 Which brings me to why we’re here today...

 We’re filing legislation to PERMANENTLY establish our Howard County LGBTQ Workgroup as a formal LGBTQIA+ Commission, with the recognition that we needed to include the “I” for intersex, “A” for asexual and allies and the “+” to be a truly inclusive Commission for all.

 This commission will help move Howard County forward and will:

 *          Identify best practices to affirm members of the gay and transgender community;

*          Recommend initiatives to support LGBTQIA+ families and children; and

*          Advise us on policy and programs that impact our gay and transgender community, and on how to improve outcomes for underserved and at-risk members of the LGBTQIA+ population.

 Additionally, the Commission will support, plan, and help execute events, like PRIDE, to celebrate and affirm our community.

 I’d like to thank our Workgroup members, many who are here today, for your advocacy and work to improve the lives of our neighbors, family, and friends.

 Together, we take a major step, and I am hopeful the County Council will pass this legislation to make a positive, impactful difference in the lives of our LGBTQIA+ residents, in our community and our world. Thank you.

–Dr. Calvin Ball, County Executive


Today is a great day for Howard County’s LGBTQIA+ community and, indeed, for everyone who calls this county home. We’re here to celebrate the introduction of legislation that will give our community a permanent seat at the table and connect us in a lasting way with those who control the levers of government in our county whose decisions have a direct impact on our lives.

 Howard County and Maryland have always led the way on LGBTQ+ rights. From Howard County’s anti-discrimination law passed many decades ago, to hate crime and anti-discrimination laws at the state level, to Maryland becoming one of the first states to pass marriage equality – not by judicial fiat – but by popular vote. Our community and our allies have achieved so much, but we know our hard-fought rights are under siege as we speak.

Every day, our community evolves and grows. We discover new ways to understand ourselves and embrace living lives of honesty, authenticity, and happiness. This is all our community has ever wanted – a chance to seek a life of fulfillment and love without anyone putting barriers in our way. But as the rainbow coalition of queer people grows, as we gain allies among our families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, there are forces at work, using more extreme tactics and rhetoric to hold us back.

But this is not Texas. This is not Carroll County. This is Howard County. Today, we are saying loud and clear that queer voices will be heard, we will have our say in our government, and we will have a seat at the table. We are sending a message, especially, to our young people, who need now more than ever to hear from those of us in positions of leadership, that we see them and will do everything we can to give them a safe, healthy, and nurturing environment to grow and achieve their potential.

I’ve always been proud to be a lifelong Howard Countian. But I’m especially proud today. Thank you to our County Executive for making this timely commitment – both as we celebrate Pride Month, and as we see rising hateful rhetoric in our country and in our county – and I am calling on all five members of our County Council to pass this legislation unanimously, in a bipartisan way, to make it absolutely clear that here, in this special place, every life has value and meaning, and yes, love trumps hate.

I’m honored to be here today and to serve as this county’s first openly LGBT+ elected official. I may be the first, but I certainly will not be the last.

–Byron Macfarlane, Register of Wills and first openly LGBTQ+ person to be elected in Howard County


 Good morning. My name is Bob Ford and my pronouns are he/him/his.

I am a commissioner on the Howard County Human Rights Commission, a member of COVE—the Coalition Opposing Violence and Extremism—and a member of the County Executive’s LGBTQ Workgroup.

We have recently witnessed a disturbing and alarming uptick in anti-LGBTQ legislation and incidents around the country. From a failed attempt to disrupt a Pride celebration in Idaho, to storming into a drag queen storytelling session in California, to over 200 bills in state legislatures aimed at stripping the rights of LGBTQ people especially trans kids—these are wake-up calls.

Moreover, at one political party’s convention in Texas this past weekend, language was added to their platform that “homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice” and that party opposes “all efforts to validate transgender identity.”

In neighboring Carroll County, Pride flags in schools have been made illegal. Pride flags are being burned in other parts of the state.

To be clear, Howard County is not immune to anti-LGBTQ hate. As a commissioner on the Human Rights Commission and Chair of the Hate Bias Committee, I’ve been made aware of an increasing number of hate bias incidents. Unfortunately, privacy restrictions prevent me from discussing them.

A welcoming sign that featured a rainbow was chopped down and stolen from a Clarksville church.

We have seen a small but vocal group of parents whose goal is to ban books in libraries and schools that contain LGBTQ+ characters and themes, and push against any LGBTQ content in the schools’ curricula.

The LGBTQ+ community has made progress over the years but because of these distressing actions we
seem to be slipping back to the 1970s and 80s.  And lately the far right is using the word “groomers” to stoke more fear of LGBTQ+ people. This rhetoric leads directly to the increase of hatred and bullying in our schools and elsewhere, suicide as well as violence. We must be ready to thwart these efforts and call out hate when we see it.

An LGBTQIA+ Commission in Howard County would serve as a watchdog for these homophobic and transphobic actions. We would inform the county government of the needs of the LGBTQ community and make recommendations to the County Executive and Council for action if feasible.

Having an LGBTQ+ focus as part of the county’s government would raise awareness and would hopefully lead to measures to stem the tide of hate and inequality. Thank you.

–Bob Ford, Member of the Howard County Human Rights Commission 


 Good morning everyone I want to begin by thanking Dr. Ball and everyone else who has contributed to forming this important commission on behalf of the LGBTQ community. The work of this commission will help ensure a welcoming community for all of us in Howard County.

My name is Becki, and I am married to my wife Kirsten. We live in Elkridge and together with our co-parents raise two young boys and a rising college freshman. I am honored to serve on this commission, alongside several other community members and friends who have bravely advocated for the LGBTQ community, long before I ever came out, and often in the face of significant hate and discrimination.

When I think of what this commission and this work means to me, I think about the diversity of our community, each of us having our own unique experiences, identities, and perspectives.

What I hope to bring to the work of this commission is my perspective as a woman, who is married to another woman, and is parenting children in a blended family. What I hope to elevate is a better understanding that our identities as parents are not just about our sexual orientation, but sexual orientation is a key piece of our identity that should be recognized.

It is about teaching our children that love is love, that everyone deserves to give and receive love, and that they deserve to hear and read stories about families that look just like theirs. That our family should never feel ashamed for being proud of who we are.

Having grown up in a community that was not accepting or affirming, I know how important these messages are to our youth and neighbors. I hope this commission can bring folks together from all walks of life and encourage meaningful dialogue and progress. Thanks again to everyone who worked so hard to make this possible. I look forward to serving with you.

–Becki Weiss Vivrette, Community Member


In the LGBTQ community, there is a sense of labeling us as other, but that’s not always true. We’re your students and your teachers. We’re business owners, family members, and friends. We’re in the community that you live in as well.  

At the end of the day, we deserve to have not just a seat at the table, but our own table to sit at. 

A community like Howard County being able to provide the resources and support for people in the LGBTQ community to build that table and have this Commission and share what our actual concerns are with the community – rather than have the community decide what to deal with regarding us – it’s a very different feeling and a very positive feeling.”

– Jumel Howard, President of PFLAG Howard County.



As we close, Howard County prides itself on embracing people from all walks of life and treating them with dignity, respect, fairness and humanity.  However, there is still progress to be made.  

This was highlighted through the work of the LGBTQ+ Workgroup on ways that Howard County can improve.  

Personally, Working alongside the group taught me so much about the diverse needs of this non-monolithic community and I can say I’ve become a better ally and advocate.

The Office of Human Rights and Equity offers year-round workshops about Humanity and Activism, and we often hear from the community “I want to take action. But I don’t know where to begin.” And What can I do to be a better ally?  Well, here are a few steps you can take:

 *          Listen and be open-minded.

 *          Be inclusive. Don't make assumptions

*          Honor people’s chosen pronouns.

*          Believe and embody a spirit that all people should be treated equally, with dignity and respect.

*          Lastly, support this important legislation to ensure the voices of all our residents are being heard, feel welcomed, protected and have equitable opportunities

 Again, County Executive Ball thank you being a tireless civil and human rights champion and for taking the 1st step to establish the LGBTQIA+ Commission.

Yolanda Sonnier, Office of Human Rights and Equity Administrator

Photo courtesy of Howard County Government

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Good Morning Baltimore! Beloved Hairspray Returns Home

From the opening number “Good Morning Baltimore” to the rousing finale “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” you know the audience at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre was thoroughly soaking up its hometown musical Hairspray. Indeed, the ovations given to those bookend songs and all the ones in between were so loud you can feel the vibrations in this stately theater. And you just know that with this audience Hairspray could do no wrong on its home turf. It did not disappoint.

In fact, under the meticulous direction of Matt Lenz, the sparkling production soars in all elements— a terrific storyline, the music, orchestration, technical innovations, slick staging, eye-pleasing visuals, dazzling, costumes, sensational choreography and an abundantly talented and energetic cast—making this production one of the very best you will ever see. It is no wonder Hairspray copped eight Tony Awards in 2003 including Best Musical.

Because there were so many Baltimore references and local flavor in the music and dialogue, one must marvel how this production is so appreciated in other cities on its national tour. From Patterson Park High School, to North Avenue, to Essex Community College, to Pigtown and the Women’s House of Detention, this show has Baltimore painted all over it with a few well-placed “hons” inserted as part of the dialogue. And even the Formstone facing, a Baltimore staple of rowhomes in Baltimore’s urban and working class neighborhoods, is evident in much of the scenery. The musical is based on the 1988 film of the same name by Baltimore icon John Waters.

Most of us can relate to being an underdog during points in our lives. Overcoming challenges can be fulfilling and exhilarating especially if the results are unexpected.  So, when we see others do it, we cheer and cheer hard because we can relate; we’ve been there.  Who doesn’t love underdogs who triumph against the odds?

Hairspray  is a vibrant feel-good musical that allows the audience to fight the fight alongside the underdogs.  While there is a solid amount of comedy throughout, Hairspray tackles serious social issues to boot. The book was penned by Mark O’Donnell and Mark Meehan who garnered Tony’s for their efforts.

Musical Director Patrick Hoagland and his orchestra as well as the performers bring to life the Tony Award winning score by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman that includes 60’s-style dance music and rhythm and blues – a mixture of upbeat high-tempo numbers with soft emotional ballads.

"...a vibrant feel-good musical that allows the audience to fight the fight alongside the underdogs."

Michele Lynch, who is the show’s accomplished choreographer, is blessed to work with an incredible cast who clearly enjoy themselves as much as the audience does.  “Good Morning Baltimore,” “The Nicest Kids in Town, “Welcome to the ‘60’s,” “The Big Dollhouse” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat” are examples of numbers containing wonderful choreography.

Baltimore in 1962 is the backdrop for the story that centers on the main underdog, plucky and pleasantly plump Tracy Turnblad played marvelously by Niki Metcalf. 

Against the odds, our heroine Tracy seeks to be a dancer on the local Corny Collins TV show and winds up being a star, successfully covets the heartthrob Link Larkin in an unlikely match, and uses her newly-found celebrity to rally against racial segregation.

Though Hairspray brings to life the good times of that period, nostalgic it’s not.  Baltimore was a segregated city then, and racism that is associated with that blight, becomes the main force in the show.  In the end, there are heroes galore as The Corny Collins Show is ultimately integrated led by the persistent Tracy who had been jailed for being a “rabble rouser.”  

In a tour de force, Ms. Metcalf wins your heart with her playful and forceful portrayal of Tracy. Her compelling character overcomes self-esteem issues brought about by fat-shaming.  Not only do her acting skills and stage presence come to the fore but Ms. Metcalf’s vocals are stellar as well. Excelling in many numbers throughout including the iconic “Good Morning Baltimore,” her solo “I Can Hear the Bells” rings out.

For the performance reviewed, Greg Kalafatas is excellent as homebody Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s plus-sized mother.  He plays the drag role with panache and delivers many comedic lines with impeccable timing and amusing facial expressions.     

Christopher Swan does a fine job as Tracy’s encouraging father and Edna’s adoring husband Wilmer Turnblad.  In a sweet number, the Turnblad couple reminisce in “(You’re) Timeless to Me” and  is one of the show’s many highlights. The ballad is an adorable love song oozing with emotion and camp that will make you smile. Mr. Kalafatas and Mr. Swan nail it.

Emery Henderson who plays the rather dim Penny Pingleton, Tracy’s closest friend, is excellent as she also serves up some comedic lines.  Penny, who is controlled by her overprotective and racist mother Prudy (Emmanuelle Zeesman) falls in love with African-American Seaweed J. Stubbs played very well by Jamonté D. Bruten, who are key to the integration effort.  Mr. Bruten shows off smooth dance moves and sings well in “Run and Tell That.”

Handsome Will Savarese plays the heartthrob Link Larkin (when is an actor playing Link not handsome?) is one of the protagonists.  He fills the bill to the hilt with his swagger and occasional preening.  Possessing a solid voice as well,  Mr. Savarese shines in his duet with Ms. Metcalf  in “It Takes Two” as the duo improbably falls in love.  

Other strong performances are turned in by Billy Dawson as the vibrant Corny Collins, Addison Garner as the villainess and Corny Collins Show producer Velma Von Tussle, and Kaelee Albritton as Amber Von Tussle, the self-absorbed reigning Teen Queen vying for the title “Miss Hairspray 1962” and Tracy’s chief rival.

Another highlight is Gabriyel Thomas playing Motormouth Maybelle for this performance, the mother of Seaweed and Little Inez (Kaléa Leverette).  Her powerful rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been” whereby she recalls the fight for equality is almost guaranteed to make your eyes well up in tears.    

The Dynamites is a background singing group that adds a Motown feel to the show.  Talented vocalists Nichelle Lewis, Jazz Madison and Parris Mone’t Lewis comprise the group.  I can envision Ed Sullivan introducing them on his show: “Right here on our stage…here are the explosive Dynamites!”

The production is a visual delight with brilliantly colorful lighting (Paul Miller) and exquisite scenery (David Rockwell) featuring numerous backgrounds and drop-down curtains as well as the aforementioned Formstone depictions.

William Ivey Long designed the glorious 60’s-era costumes that are right on target especially that red satiny gown Edna (Greg Kalafatas) wears at show’s end.   Oh, and those bountiful, big-hair wigs (designed by Paul Huntley and Richard Mawbey)! Love ‘em.

This polished, high-energy production of Hairspray succeeds on all fronts and entertains while delivering a powerful message. At show’s end, the cast received a well-deserved thunderous and I do mean thunderous ovation. It is a must-see, good-time show, and Lord knows a good time is just what we can use today.

Running time. Approximately two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Hairspray runs through June 19 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit here or the Baltimore Hippodrome.

Photos by Jeremy Daniel