Light chatter illuminated the Sexson Auditorium as audience members sat in their seats, anticipating the raising of the red curtains. Upon the lighthearted entrance of the orchestra, the curtains were finally raised, and the audience was greeted by a slumbering teen donning a characteristic beehive hairdo. Lights, camera, Hairspray!
The musical, presented by the Performing and Communication Arts Division, delves into a plethora of colorful topics including the exploration of racial discrimination, opposing genres in musicals, sexual awakening in the 1960s, as well as the casting of an unconventional heroine: an overweight high-school girl. As explained in the program, Hairspray “champions all people who differ from society’s so-called ‘norms.’ More than that, it shows us that ‘normal’ is a boring and outdated idea.”
Director Richard Kuller introduced the show as a complex mesh of interdisciplinary arts from music, dance, acting, scenic arts and makeup. The time and effort spent refining this show shines through brilliantly in all aspects.
The storyline is easy to follow, as the audience is welcomed into the life of Jessica Young’s character, Tracy Turnblad, an ambitious teen who wishes to become a local television star, despite her wide girth. Young emanated inexhaustible energy which shines through every scene, while effortlessly captivating the audience with her dance background, as well as her bright, animated and bubbly delivery of songs and dialogue.
“It really helps to have a responsive audience,” said Young. “It just gives us so much more energy, and we feel like we can really shine and be real.”
The cast is diverse and multi-talented, and features a colorful array of characters, with each actor holding their own ground as they exude energy, emotion, sass, spunk, charm and sexual appeal, among other qualities. The show is elevated by the diligence and attention of all the actors.
From small gestures like the cock of a head and the touching up of hair from the studly, yet narcissistic Link Larkin, played by David Park, to the tugging of a collar from a nervous Seaweed Stubbs, played by Alexis Soto Jr., to the acrobatic moves integrated into the fast-paced choreography of Patrick Tsoi-A-Sue’s Corny Kid, the show is action-packed and no detail is left unattended to.
Most notably, the musical features showstoppers like the villainous Velma von Tussel played by Thresa Katz, whose grotesque antics are delivered with such gusto and ferociousness that audience members are left reeling in their seats. Additionally, Sandra Collins, who plays the strong-willed Motormouth Maybelle Stubbs, leaves the audience breathless with her powerful, gospel-style vocals, as well as her spine-chilling, passionate performance.
“It’s very easy to be a reflective mirror when you’ve got that kind of talent on stage,” remarked Katz. “So if my job looks like it was done properly, it’s because I’m bolstered by some really phenomenal talent. It’s good energy — it’s easy to give when you get so much as an actress.”
The musical is highly entertaining and humorous, with jokes appealing to all ages. However, some flukes occurred during the show. Technical difficulties arose as the microphones malfunctioned, leaving actors without a source of amplification whether for dialogue or a song. Perhaps what was most off putting were the few shrill, off-pitch notes from Unique Shanklin, a member of the Dynamite trio. However, the rest of the show offsets these minor issues.
“The show is better than I could have ever hoped,” Park said. “I just want the audience to have fun like we are having fun on stage.”
Indeed, the audience enjoyed the show. “[The cast has] done a really superb job in the amount of time they’ve been given,” said Elora Casados, theater arts. “The choreography is really, really amazing, especially in the last number ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat.’ I think that [Christopher] Curry, the choreographer, has really done a tremendous job pulling that off with so many people to be in charge of.”
Student Michael Peckins, music, was very fond of the performance. “I loved it,” Peckins said. “And being an older student here, I am so inspired to be the best vocalist I can be.”
Kuller was very satisfied with the first week of performances. “The orchestra was not to be believed. The sets are spectacular,” said Kuller endearingly. “It’s an amazing thing to hold together. All the parts have to work perfectly at the same time; it’s an immense task for everyone, and it takes stamina on everybody’s part, as well as skill [and] talent.”
All in all, the complexity of this performance melds together perfectly, giving audience members a highly refined musical to look forward to. The toilsome hours of practice each actor invested in bettering every scene have surely paid off, making Hairspray a phenomenal, must-see show.