If you didn’t see the production of the musical “Hairspray” at the high school Friday night, you missed more than a great show.
You missed a turning point in the young history of the consolidated Franklin County School, a bend in the river that flows towards a growing desire for the creation of a robust drama program.
Staging of the Broadway musical, with music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by him and Scott Wittman, and book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, was the brainchild of senior Jathan Martin, who came to librarian Patty Creamer at the end of 2013 to pitch her on the idea.
A skilled musician, with an ample familiarity with musical theatre, Martin convinced Creamer to back the idea of his staging and directing the comic masterpiece, with a bevy of spirited actors, singers and dancers, despite the school lacking a drama program at the school.
Creamer was four-square behind the talents of Martin, choreographer Morgan Martin and an extracurricular cast and crew, but was not familiar with all the details of the script, which focuses gently on the turmoil of when the civil rights movement first came alive 50 years ago, as seen through the prism of an “American Bandstand” type live dance party television show in Baltimore, Maryland.
The show addresses issues of how society has loosened its strictly held views on everything from interracial dating to puberty to obesity. The dialogue is not without its spicy language, some of which gave Creamer fits, and some of which she nixed, or so the actors say.
But as it turned out, the large audience that took in the show Friday leaped to its feet with a standing ovation, after a show that can best be described as memorable.
Starring in the role made famous on Broadway by Harvey Fierstein, and in the film by John Travolta, senior Alex Causey played the drag version of Edna Turnblad, a role whose girth calls for a male actor. Causey reveled in the opportunity, sashaying around with his ample bosom for maximum comic effect. His soft shoe with husband Wilbur Turnblad (Christian Jones), to the warm and cheery love song “Timeless to Me” was a glowing tribute to how beauty is truly “in the eyes of the beholder.”
The show revolves around the ambition of the Turnblads’ daughter, Tracy, (Cynthia Duncan) to secure a coveted spot in the dance troupe of “The Corny Collins Show.” As it turns out, Tracy, who is not very gently chided for her weight by a snotty rival Amber Van Tussle (Ursula Countryman), manages to be picked for the show. She brings to the TV show not only a sassy alternative to the rail-thin other girls, but an outspoken advocacy for expanding “Negro Day” from once a month, even, heaven forbid, allowing for an integrated dance floor!
Van Tussle’s mom, Velma (high school teacher Stephanie Howze-Jones) not only directs the “Corny Collins Show,” and is bigoted to boot, but is willing to even cheat if it means her daughter will win the Miss Hairspray crown.
After Tracy sings “Good Morning Baltimore,” a testimony to her optimism, the show switches to the set of the Corny Collins show, where Austin Carter played the slick host. Called in to play the part with just a few weeks to spare, Carter was one of the only actors to lip sync, as he managed the acting assignment suavely, with superb charm.
By show’s end, this all-white dance crew has come together with the all-black youth. With choreography by experienced dancer Morgan Martin, who played both Little Inez and Judine, these group scenes were among the best in the show, proving that Seahawks know how to scoot in sync along the dance floor.
Among those young people were Gilbert (Kelsey Jones), Stooie (Maliek Rhodes), Cindy Watkins (Bria Walker), Tammy (Megan Collins), Brad (Chandler White), Fender (Gabby Bond), Brenda (Deborah Dempsey), Sketch (Cameron White), Shelley (Madison Newell), IQ (Shane Bellew), LouAnn (Brook Pittman), Lorraine (Aaliyah West), Kamilah (Shameika Lake), and Shayna (Beyla Walker).
With her goofy, geeky best friend Penny Pingleton (Raven Carr) as her sidekick, Tracy sets out on an adventure that takes her to the “Negro” side of town, where she discovers the meaning of freedom and equality by an involvement with a civil rights demonstration that leads to her jailing.
Performing one of the high points of the show, in a magnificent tribute to the joy of eating and of self-love, high school teacher Elinor Mount-Simmons, as Motormouth Maybelle, brought down the house with her rendition of “Big, Blonde and Beautiful.”
The show gave all the actors a chance to provide an energetic, unabashed, free-wheeling performance, and each took advantage. As the heartthrob Link Larkin, Logan McLeod had the slick gestures down as he crooned “It Takes Two” to a pie-eyed, giggly Tracy. As Seaweed Stubbs, Jathan Martin set a standard for the cast to emulate as he danced and sang “Run and Tell That” together with Little Inez and the Dynamites, a tribute to the Supremes and other ‘60s female soul-pop trios, played by Morgan Martin, Shameika Lake and Beyla Walker, in elegant gowns and satin gloves.
Luke Hames, as Harriman Spritzer, was a comic presence in his role as proprietor of a plus-size lingerie store beloved by Edna Turnblad. High school teacher Jennifer Edwards, who also stage managed the show together with Roderick Robinson and Andrea Cupid, and para-professional Louise Chipman added their acting talents to the show, which was assisted by lots of school and community support.
Richie Herrington served as technical director, Dana Whaley took photos and Creamer’s husband Earl helped to design and create props, as W.K. Sanders’ carpentry class handled construction of the set.
The list of backers continues, including Ace Hardware, Penny’s Worth, Anthony Cooley from PAEC, Dolores Croom, Deborah Huckeba, Nina Marks, Scott Shiver, Lee Venable, Cathy Wood, and many more.
It was a labor of love, a tribute to gumption and perseverance and a powerful, musical blast for the renewal of an effort to expand the theater opportunities at the school.