From the first belted notes of “Good Morning Baltimore” to the final toe-tapping tune “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” the cast of “Hairspray” entertained the Easter Sunday audience for a solid two hour show at the . The musical is an upbeat spring performance from Broadway by the Bay that has numerous messages which resonate with all audiences.
Tracy Turnblad isn’t your average-sized girl. She has plus-sized dreams of becoming famous and her ticket to stardom is an appearance on the famous television series “The Corny Collins Show.” As teenagers struggle with body image and other pressures to fit in with the cool crowd, “Hairspray” sends a positive message that “the bigger your girth, the more you’re worth.”
“When kids are facing bullying and racism in school, this is a musical that is uplifting,” said actress Vicki Morgan, who plays the lead character, Tracy Turnblad.
Morgan added that she particularly loved playing this role because there was no demand to lose weight. Often in musical theatre, there isn’t an overabundance of roles for actresses who look like her.
“I can be who I am without changing the way I look,” she said.
Morgan said this powerful message is what is most appealing about the musical, and that anyone of any age from 15 to 70 can relate to the characters.
And the fun, effervescent musical numbers will crack a smile on any audience member’s face.
“It’s like my Xanax,” said Cole Grissom, who plays Tracy’s mother, Edna Turnblad, a role traditionally cast for a male. Grissom’s background is in operatic theatre, but he said he couldn’t help but audition for the gender-bending, fun role when his friend, Morgan, insisted he try out.
“It’s so inspiring and rejuvenating,” he said of the role.
Whether it’s operatic theatre or musical theatre, Grissom said theatre was essential to sustain a thriving community. Theatre brings life and enrichment to a society that can’t be replaced by anything else.
“It affects every part of your life,” he said. “Acting teaches you to strive for excellence and transfers to everything else that you do.”
Director Amanda Folena wholeheartedly echoed this sentiment, adding, “Theatre brings all types of people together and teaches them to be more tolerant and accepting of differences.”
It promotes awareness of issues through a different, more creative medium. Theatre can also serve as the glue that holds a community together, the one aspect that parties on opposite sides of the political spectrum can enjoy together.
The Journey to the Stage
Folena had put in 12 months of work - from the grueling rehearsals to managing the tiniest details - before Hairspray could debut on April 6. The actors began rehearsing in February to put on a show that would wow audiences.
Folena chose Hairspray based on numerous factors, citing copyright timing plus the appropriate timing for a musical with such a strong message.
“[Hairspray] shows that being ‘normal’ doesn’t fit in one definition,” the director said.
For those who have seen the movie with a star-studded cast that includes John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer, there are original tunes like “Big Dollhouse” and “I Know Where I’ve Been” that don’t make an appearance on the silver screen.
The beauty of theatre is the ability, and sometimes necessity, to improvise. Minutes before the show, the actor who plays Wilbur Turnblad, Tracy’s father, fell very ill and the cast had to scramble to find an understudy. Though he was eventually able to take the stage, the live aspect of the performance was definitely felt.
“I love that theatre is so fragile,” Folena said. “At any moment, one tiny part can fall out of place but you have to adapt.”
With each performance, Folena could see the cast grow into their roles and become more comfortable with each line and note.
Theatre-goers on Sunday afternoon were enthralled by the characters’ talent and believability in their roles. After the performance, the actors could barely leave the theatre into the foyer without people clamoring for autographs on their play bills.
“It’s surreal,” Grissom said. “You know when people say things like that, we’ve done our job.”
Hairspray will be performing at the Fox Theatre until April 22. For tickets, visit www.broadwaybythebay.org or call 650-579-5565.
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