The Right Step Forward

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With the announcement that Theatre will be doing a production of the musical Hairspray, many students and community members were intrigued to see how a majority-white school was going to put on a show that normally includes a half black cast. When it came time to casting the musical, the heads of Theatre were faced with the task of finding students to play these roles.
The decision to do Hairspray came from the Theatre directors desire to do a show that addressed different issues than previous musicals that they have done. They hope to pull in a different audience and create a conversation among their audience members.

With putting on musicals like Beauty and the Beast and Shrek in past seasons, Hairspray will be a tonal shift for the Theatre program.
The Theatre directors were not the only ones that wanted to spark conversation with their audience. The students in theatre also felt that Hairspray brought up important topics of discussion like race and prejudice.

“The last two years we wanted to maybe pull in a different audience,” head director of Marcus Theatre, Denise Tooch said. “We also wanted to pull in a different group of students to participate.”
Theatre held open auditions in hopes to bring in students outside of Theatre for their production. Opening night will be the onstage debut for some of the cast members.
Traditionally, the “detention kids” in Hairspray are all African-American characters. However, due to a minimal number of students of color in Theatre, the task of casting those characters had to be approached in a different way. So, the Theatere heads casted students from various minority groups to keep the diversity of the cast.

“We have a different mix so, yes, it’s not going to be only African-American,” Tooch said. “You’re going to see that group of students be all shapes and sizes.”

Despite it being set in the 1960’s, Tooch said Hairspray’s commentary on racial injustice and acceptance can still be applied to today’s society.

Based on the 1988 John Water’s film Hairspray, the musical includes music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Senior Ben Perry plays Seaweed J. Stubbs, a hip and kind-hearted dancer that befriends Tracy Turnblad and Penny Pingleton.

“Realistically in the 60s…[African-Americans] weren’t the only non-white minority,” Perry said.

Perry said that the detention kids being made up of different ethnicities other than African-American is more realistic of the time period then having an all black group. That in the 60s, all minorities were oppressed, not just one.

Tooch said that the production aims to spark discussion among their audience members about the realistic themes present in Hairspray and how they can translate to our world today. Underneath all the glitter and rhinestones, Hairspray shines a light on how we view other people and how we treat the other people around us.

“It may make some people uncomfortable,” Perry said. “But discomfort is the first step to talking about what really matters.”