This 'Hairspray' holds up all night

How our definition of innocence has changed! "Hairspray" is now a community theater staple and even a show done by kids, despite double entendres about venereal disease, a song in a women's prison with a lesbian guard and the jaunty opening number: "Good morning, Baltimore/There's the flasher who lives next door/There's the bum on the bar room stool/They wish me luck on my way to school."

Yet the show is innocent in its naughty way. It promotes acceptance of people regardless of race, creed or waist size. It takes us to a simpler time (1962) when blacks were put down quietly and politely, even in so large a city as Baltimore, and reminds us America functions best as a melting pot.

Marc Shaiman's music celebrates neither the hip-swiveling rockabilly of Elvis Presley nor the suggestive sneering of the Rolling Stones, which preceded and followed the whitebread pop of the early '60s. It echoes innocent girl groups Phil Spector mined so well.

The adults, from venal Velma von Tussle (Susan Roberts Knowlson) to genial Wilbur and Edna Turnblad (Kevin Roberge and Beau Stroup), sing wistfully about the past or about slipping into a quiet old age. Even Motormouth Maybelle (Stefanie Lewis) looks backward to racial hardships in "I Know Where I've Been."

But the kids sing always of the future, a future of integration and stable marriages and college degrees. That's why Velma and cranky daughter Amber (Lucy Werner) have to be hauled into the final unison number: This vision must be all-embracing to succeed.

CPCC Summer Theatre put that simple sense of joy and hope across Friday in a production brimming with energy.

Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan's book writes in primary colors, so to speak. Overweight heroine Tracy Turnblad (Sara Reinecke) wants to appear on a dance show run by Corny Collins (Josh Conrad), winning the heart of sweet Link (Glen North) and integrating the program as well. But her girth, producer von Tussle's opposition and social custom all weigh against her.

The cast does not exaggerate characters: Stroup is gently persuasive as Edna (always a drag role), while the nearly unrecognizable Roberge is zany rather than bizarre. Lewis' Maybelle is less a glib sloganeer than a concerned mother.

That's not to say that actors didn't seize big moments: Nimble dancer Seaweed (Nicholas Burroughs) was all over the furniture in his solo "Run and Tell That," while Reinecke popped out of bed in the opening like a prize shooting from a Cracker Jack box. (Like all the cast, they were occasionally defeated by Halton Theatre's sound or their body mikes, even when I moved to sit behind the sound mixing board.)

As you'd guess, hair plays a big part. I admired Tracy's bi-colored 'do, gawped at Amber's blonde mess - a Pomeranian seemed to be devouring her skull - and roared with laughter at stalwart character actor Vito Abate, who wore three hairpieces that wouldn't have fooled a blind man. In life, he's bald. But in the America of "Hairspray," everybody can grow a thick, flowing mop.