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‘Hairspray’ entertains a sold-out crowd in SCC theater

By Michelle Kim

Section: Arts, Featured

April 11, 2014

“Hairspray,” presented by the Brandeis Hillel Theater Group and co-sponsored by Hillel at Brandeis University is, to put it simply, a hit. People were lining up an hour before the show started, and by the time 7:50 p.m. rolled around, the SCC was half full. When the show started, the theater was full and the show was sold out.

In one of the most heartfelt and interesting directors’ note I’ve ever come across, co-directors Bronte Velez ’16 and Dennis Hermida-Gonzalez ’16 explained why they chose to direct “Hairspray”: “We saw this show as an opportunity to radicalize the presence of art on this campus and to give roles to many students who have not been premiered on our stage.” Over 45 years ago, the SCC, then known as Ford Hall, was occupied by 70 African-American Brandeis students who demanded that the community better represent minorities on campus and develop and African-American studies program. “We are now presenting a show with cast members and production staff that still know the weight of those students’ fight. Although evolved, it is not over. We hope that together we can all honor where we have been and celebrate how far we have come but never ignore how much we still have left to do. Let us continue to complete the story.”

Starring Bethany Adam ’15 as main character Tracy Turnblad, “Hairspray” is set in 1962 Baltimore, Maryland, during a time where racism and segregation dominated American popular culture. Although Turnblad is a white American, her plump body makes her an outcast among her classmates, especially the Nicest Kids, who are teenage celebrities on the “Corny Collins Show.” It was interesting to see Adam sport a fat suit; I thought it was a good costume choice. Because Tracy’s size is an integral part of her character, the suit helped Adam look the part without overdoing it. The musical follows Tracy as she falls in love with the handsome Link Larkin (Dov Gold ’16), gets bullied by Amber and Velma von Tussle (Margot Grubert ’17 and Joanna Nix ’14). Tracy also fights against racism with her parents, Edna and Wilbur (Spencer Stevens ’16 and Ian Caroll ’15), best friend Penny Pingleton (Jessica Eichinger ’17), Seaweed J. Stubbs (Adam Jones ’15), his strong mother Motormouth Maybelle (Nyah Macklin ’16) and even Corny Collins himself (Ray Trott ’16.)

The opening song, “Good Morning Baltimore,” sung by Adam, was a satisfactory way to begin the production. With strong vocals—upfront and in the background—and a jazzy band hiding behind the stage, “Good Morning Baltimore” was like waking up to a blue sky fully rested. Adam, who has been in countless other musical productions, is a fabulous singer-actress. The set at the beginning was also great, as Adam stood in front of an upright bed to make it look like the audience was watching her from above.

It was extremely refreshing to see new talented faces on stage, including Eichinger, Gold, Jones, Xaviera Sargeant ’16 (who played Little Inez) and Stevens. While just watching them perform, before reading their biographies in the program, I had mistaken them for stage veterans. All had great voices, which were so stunning that at one point I wanted to start recording on my phone.

Highlights of last night’s production of “Hairspray” musical numbers include “It Takes Two,” “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful,” “Without Love” and “I Know Where I’ve Been.” I sat down having high expectations for these pieces especially and was not disappointed. Eichinger, Gold, Jones and Macklin are wonderful vocalists; in particular, Macklin had members of the audience on their feet during her renditions of “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful” and “I Know Where I’ve Been.” Her soulful and consistent vocals, combined with her sassy and headstrong nature, made her character (Motormouth Maybelle) a crowd favorite. “It Takes Two,” sung by Gold, established his character, Link, as a swoon-worthy love interest. One could practically hear the sighs of people in the audience as Gold courted both Tracy and the audience. “Without Love” was great because three of the best vocalists, Eichinger, Gold and Jones, were all featured. High notes were hit satisfyingly, and passionate kisses were exchanged.

Equally charismatic was Tracy’s mother, Edna. In all “Hairspray” productions, Edna is played by a male actor, and Stevens is a fantastic version of her. Stevens was impressively comfortable in heels and employed such great enthusiasm that, despite his purposefully weaker vocals, he elicited cheers every time he did something on stage. He and Ian Caroll ’15 made an awfully charming pair. A favorite line was an an addition by the directors in “You’re Timeless to Me” when Edna says, “I’ll always call you home,” Wilbur (with a wink to the audience) states, “Shabbat, shalom.” Another character that I loved was Penny Pingleton. Fragile-looking, somewhat dim-witted, yet strong hearted, Penny was the perfect sidekick-best friend. Eichinger employed a shaky voice when speaking but impressively belted out her notes when singing.

“Hairspray” is worth the hype. With stellar vocals, set and tech, it will meet your expectations as well as provide tons of entertainment. With a packed house on Thursday night, the show was nothing short of a success. Hopefully the cast will be able to receive a portion of the audience size for the remainder of the weekend, with shows at 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and a matinee on Sunday at 2 p.m. While many people may be going home early this weekend, “Hairspray” is one show people might want to hang around for.

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