by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The 6th Annual High School Summer Musical Theatre Experience sponsored by The Artist Series and The Wilson Center for the Arts, opened July 29th for a two-weekend run at the Wilson Center on the South Campus of FSCJ on Beach Boulevard.
This highly successful venture was launched six years ago by Wilson Center Managing Director Beth Harvey, who has been the Program Director for each year since. It has become better and better each year as its reputation has grown. This year, 190 talented students from all over North Florida auditioned for roles. In addition, many students in related stagecraft fields are involved in the production, working with sets, lighting, costumes, and crew member assignments.
Hairspray is a youngster in musical theatre history, debuting on Broadway in 2002 as an adaption of John Waters’s 1988 movie of the same name. The production garnered eight Tony awards, after being nominated for twelve.
You can bet Hairspray will be around for years and joins Grease as one of the hot musicals for young adults to perform. It has all the ingredients: great dancing, great tunes, humorous dialogue, and an inspiring story.
Hairspray is a nostalgic social satire depicting the struggle of integrating a local TV dance show in 1962 Baltimore. It deals with teenage issues like love, popularity, weight, and provocative hairstyles, along with racism and stereotypes. It has a happy ending, but we will let you find out for yourself by seeing the show.
Director Kirsten Livingston, who directed last year’s show as well, has a cast of sixty that is solid in every role. She also has as fine a support staff as you could ever find anywhere, with David Paul Kidder, Choreographer; Ellen Milligan, Vocal Director; Scott Gregg, Music Director and Conductor of the twelve-piece student orchestra; Johnny Pettegrew, Scenic Designer; and The Costume Crew as Costume Designers. Many others, too numerous to name in this short review, include 25 student technicians and actor/tech support.
The leading character, Tracy Turnblad is performed to perfection by picture-perfect Jane Cassingham, who has boundless energy and sings and dances with gusto. Tracy heeds the words of her father, Wilbur (Shane Graham) who tells her “You’ve got to think big to be big.” Tracy also has the support of her tough talking plus-sized (54 EEE) Mom, Edna (a role always played in drag and Alexander Zane Farabee is hilarious). Tracy earns a spot on the Corny Collins TV show, with the host played by the genial and handsome Brandon Mayes. She also meets and wins the affection of her idol, good-looking Elvis wanabee Link Larkin (Will Bethmann). Tracy wants to end the segregation that relegates black dancers to one show a month, on Negro Day.
Among the things that makes this show so interesting are the interesting characters you meet, like Penny (Stacy Schoonover), Tracy’s shy best friend who falls in love with the witty and accomplished black singer and dancer, Seaweed (Willie Clyde Beaton II), much to the dismay of her bigoted mother (Andrea White). Hannah Morgan is Velma Von Tussle, producer of the TV show, who is totally opposed to integration and totally determined to have her spoiled daughter Amber (Lisa Kidder) win the title of Miss Teen Hairspray 1962. The other big momma in the show is Motormouth Maybelle (Olivia Donalson) hostess of Negro Day who with her big voice sings the show-stopping number “I Know Where I’ve Been,” and with the aid of her daughter, Little Inez (Charlotte Fisher, also Dance Captain), helps set in motion the plan to bring about the full integration the Collins TV show. Shala Brewer, Victoria Canady, and Essence Williams add a touch of sophisticated glamour as “The Dynamites,” a trio reminiscent of “The Supremes.”
With a cast of sixty, there are many other magnetic, exciting, and entertaining personalities and we are sure you will have your own favorites.
This is the third time the Dual Critics has seen Hairspray this year, and each has been different as far as sets are concerned. This one at Wilson is by far the most intricate, with lighted signs, revolving set pieces, and the use of silhouetted dancers.
The costumes by the Costume Crew capture the era. Of note, Tracy appears initially in her trademark plaid skirt, collared shirt, and sneakers; the male dancers on the Corny Collins show appear in neat fitted jackets; and “The Dynamites” show up in sequined sheaths. And the last scene is spectacular, with the ladies in formal wear.
The wigs by Rio Hair Studio of Orange Park are works of art, teased into beehives, and other towering fantasy constructions.
Hairspray continues August 5, 6 at 8 PM and August 7 at 2 PM. Call 904-646-2222 for reservations or order online at www.artistseriesjax.org. Don’t delay, the first weekend was sold out and this is the hottest ticket in town.
Congratulations to the cast and crew of the 6th Annual Summer High School Summer Musical Theatre Experience for their presentation of a truly exciting and professional evening of excellent theatre.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM