Hairspray opens at UF's Constans Theatre
By Helyne Levy, GLOB Correspondent
University of Florida's School of Theatre and Dance is bringing the Tony Award-winning production of Hairspray to the Constans Theatre from October 19 through 28.
Hairspray is an uproarious and upbeat campy musical set in contrast to the political storm of racially segregated Baltimore in 1962. Sunny-natured and pleasantly plump Tracy Turnblad earns a dream spot as a dancer on her favorite local hit TV dance program The Corny Collins Show and becomes an overnight sensation. With her newfound fame, Tracy tries to win the heart of teen-hunk Link Larkin, dethrone Amber Von Tussle as the reigning Miss Teenage Hairspray and push the local TV stations to integrate; all while trying not to dent her 'do.
"We had the right students to do the production and I fell in love with it when I saw it on Broadway," said Director Tony Mata.
The audition process took place on the first day of classes. They involved singing, acting and a dance combination to the famous finale song, "You Can't Stop the Beat." The callback process entailed cold reads—where the actors were given scripts with cuts from the show so the directors could see how the actors portrayed the characters. In addition to cold reads, auditioning students had to sing a segment of 16 bars of a song from the show. After a second callback, the final cast list was posted.
"What I love most about Hairspray is that it is fun and entertaining," Mata said. "It has a wonderful heart and message of hope."
The cast has been rehearsing since August 28 for the production, working hard to perfect the incredible songs and dances of the show. Meanwhile, the design team has been creating the colorful 1960s set and costumes.
Sophia Young, who plays Tracy Turnblad said her character is "an icon of positivity and fearlessness, always fighting for what she thinks is right."
"Playing her has brought a lot of positivity into my life," Young said, "and I think her optimism is completely infectious not only to me, but to every audience she impacts."
Tracy's mother, Edna—played by Matthew Crews—is another iconic character of the show. The role has historically been portrayed by several great male actors such as Harvey Fierstein and John Travolta. Crews said he is honored to portray this role and put his own spin on the character.
"The biggest challenge I've had with the role is the shoes," he said. "I had never worn heels before and when I first got the role the costume department had asked me if I had any experience dancing in heels and, unfortunately, I had to say no. At first, the shoes were the worst! But pretty hurts, ya know?"
The School of Theatre and Dance iwelcomes Broadway veteran and School of Theatre and Dance alumna LaVon Fisher-Wilson back to the Constans Stage in this production of Hairspray as Motormouth Maybelle.
"Motormouth is such a pivotal part of the show," Mata said. "She shows what real people were going through at the time, especially with her song 'I Know Where I've Been,' which is arguably the most serious moment of the entire show. It is great to have LaVon Fisher-Wilson back after 20 years for this role and singing this song. The Musical Theatre program was in its infancy when she was here as a student so it's great to see her here in the new facilities, teaching us all."
Hairspray is an iconic Broadway show—its legacy has lived on due to its timeless themes of acceptance and perseverance, making it just as relevant and important in today's society.
"Love, acceptance, disappointment, struggle and strength are universal," said Loren Stone, who plays Corny Collins. "These themes drive this story, and I want the audience to leave feeling reminded that we are all more than what we are externally."
According to Crews, the show incorporates multiple layers of important messages, but the umbrella message is that love is an amazing and powerful tool.
"Love is something that can overcome race, societal standards, or anything else that is thrown at it," Crews said. "There is a whole song in the show about what life would be like without love! Although this show is very comedic, it still has a message that is very important to this day and age."
"The best part of directing educational theatre — isyou have to teach and work with them," Mata said.
"The ultimate challenge is to get them to the level of professionalism on opening night," Mata added. "I always encourage students to make big, bold, outrageous choices."
"This cast is one of the most supporting, loving, and hardworking casts I have ever been a part of. I feel so humbled and grateful to be leading the show, but even more grateful to have the cast's support through the rehearsal process and our many runs," said Young.
With musical direction by Tony Offerle and choreography by Andrew Cao, Hairspray is showing October 19 – 28 in the Constans Theatre located in the Nadine McGuire Theatre and Dance Pavilion on UF's campus. Performance times are 7:30 p.m. October 19 – 20 and 23 – 27 and 2 p.m. October 21 and 28.
The Nadine McGuire Theatre and Dance Pavilion is located on the UF campus at 1800 McCarty Drive, Gainesville, FL 32611. Parking is available across the street from the UF Bookstore & Welcome Center located on Museum Road.
Hairspray tickets are $20 for the general public, $16 for seniors, $16 for UF faculty and staff and $14 for students. Tickets can be purchased at the University Box Office, located at Gate 1 of the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. FOLLOW THIS LINK for more information.