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'Hairspray' grabs ahold of willing audience

"C'mon, Modesto, let's dance!" the star of the upbeat musical "Hairspray" yelled at the close of Friday night's performance at the Gallo Center for the Arts.

The sold-out crowd in the 1,200-seat Rogers Theater willingly bopped to the 1960s-style beats, with those in the balcony twisting and shouting the most.

Produced by Network Presentations and directed by Matt Lenz, the slick national Broadway touring production more than fulfilled its mission of giving the audience a good time.

The show has the same candy-colored, whimsical sets and costumes and oversized beehive wigs that the 2003 Tony Award-winning New York staging did. The 30 cast members have big voices and know how to burn up a dance floor. The 11-piece orchestra keeps the energy level up with its hard-driving accompaniment.

Set in 1962 Baltimore, the show follows chunky teen Tracy Turnblad as she fights for a spot on an "American Bandstand"-style TV dance show and then leads the charge to get the program racially integrated. Along the way, she wins the heart of the show's cute star Link Larkin and the respect of her peers.

Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan's book captures the quirkiness of the original 1988 John Waters film, and Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's score could fit right in with any oldies radio station. The music mixes doo-wop and Tina Turner soul with Rat Pack cocktail party sounds.

Broklynn Pulver's Tracy has a heart as huge as her ratted hairdo and tons of confidence to match.

Jerry O'Boyle is hilarious as Tracy's insecure but devoted mother Edna. He uses his lowest and most masculine voice when Tracy is threatened and giggles girlishly when around Drew Davidson, who plays Edna's husband, Wilbur.

M atthew Ragas is sexy yet sweet as heartthrob Link, and Sarah Roussos is endearingly nerdy as Tracy's best friend, Penny. John Edwards has the smoothest moves as Penny's boyfriend, Seaweed, and Lisa Linette brings the house down with her powerhouse vocals as Seaweed's mother, Motormouth Maybelle.

Ariel Tyler Page and Erin Sullivan are wickedly funny as snooty, racist mother and daughter Velma and Amber Von Tussle. Kate Feerick shows her versatility as lonely eccentrics, including Penny's mother, a high school gym teacher and a prison warden.

The cast gets a sweaty workout with nonstop boogieing choreographed by Jerry Mitchell.

As entertaining as similarly retro musicals "Grease" and "Bye Bye Birdie," the show has more depth because of its serious message about racism. Unlike "Grease," which ends with the lead girl abandoning her values to fit in, "Hairspray" is all about staying true to yourself.

'Hairspray'

RATING: ****

WHERE: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto

WHEN: 2 and 7 p.m. today (2 p.m. show sold out)

RUNNING TIME: 2½ hours, including intermission

TICKETS: $40 to $85

INFORMATION: 338-2100 or www.galloarts.org

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 or lmillegan@modbee.com.

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