Hairspray holds up in Keck Theater


Author: Juliet Suess


Sometimes it’s all about the little things. This year’s showing of “Hairspray” understands how little things add up to something amazing, whether it is a well-placed joke, a simple technological addition, a subtle change in color scheme or a passionate kiss between two men.

Occidental’s version of “Hairspray” opened this past weekend with three shows in Keck Theater, and it has three more shows this weekend before the closing show the night before graduation, May 18.

The story of “Hairspray” follows a high school girl, Tracy Turnblad, who just wants to dance. Along the way to her dream, she simply believes in herself and in people to make a little change in this world.

“The original broadway production is more of a cartoon, which is wonderful, delightful, energetic piece, and I love all that, but I also think that there is a tendency to de-emphasize the social justice aspect of the story,” Director Alan Freeman said. “The parts of the story that really get to me is this fairytale of an overweight white girl, lower middle class white girl from Baltimore, whose passion is for dancing.”

Senior Emma Blickenstaff, a theater and psychology double major, performed the star role opening night Friday. Her depiction of the somewhat naive Tracy brought the character to life; the audience could feel her completely innocent desire: dance, not for fame but for love, and bring change to a segregated Baltimore.

“Typically Tracy is seen as very idealistic and a go getter – and I agree that she is both of those things,” Blickenstaff said in an email. “But I think one portion of her character that is particularly important is that her optimism and idealism need to be infectious. People are drawn to her and listen to her and love her, and I think that is always something that is important to remember when I’m playing her.”

The part of Tracy was double cast for this show. Lily Jackson (sophomore) performed Tracy in Saturday’s show and will be on stage again for Friday’s and Sunday’s shows. Blickenstaff will perform the “senior show” on May 18.

“Sharing the role was definitely a lot of hard work,” Blickenstaff said. “But working with Lily was great. She’s a wonderful performer and it was always nice to see how she was interpreting the role differently from me.”

Freeman did not cast two Tracys for a lack of talent but as a safety net in case someone gets sick. “The reason we are sharing the role is because it is a pivotal role in the show, and if someone gets ill and is unable to sing, someone else is ready to go on,” Freeman said. “In this case, we had two women that were wonderful for the role so we cast them both.”

Jackson said that the experience has been positive working with Blickenstaff, but viewers should see both of them perform in order to get a fuller understanding of the play.

“It’s confusing, and I’ve had a lot of people think that they are buying tickets to see me and then by accident get tickets for the other night so we have just had to be very vocal about it and tell as many people as we can when our performances are, but we also just tell people to come see it as many times as we can. We both have a different take on it, so I think its good to see both people do the part,” Jackson said.

The hunky, desirable Link Larkin, played by politics major Griffin Taylor (sophomore), brought One Direction level stardom to the Keck stage. Throughout the show, audience members witness a transformation as a result of Link’s affectionate relationship with Tracy.

Unfortunately for the audience, his microphone apparently wasn’t functioning properly, and it was difficult to hear Taylor singing or talking, even from within the lower seating area. As a result, his scenes were underwhelming and confusing. One of Taylor’s favorite scenes to perform, the singing of “It Takes Two,” was hard to hear, but Blickenstaff’s acting, behaving like an infatuated young girl chasing after Justin Bieber, brought laughter and thunderous applause from the audience.

Link’s cocky counterpart Amber Von Tussle (daughter to the evil Velma Von Tussle played by Becca Scott (senior)), was just as obnoxious and bratty as one would imagine her, especially after seeing the movie (or knowing anything about teenage stereotypes). Nina Carlin (sophomore) played the part of stuck up teenager so well, her character could have starred in “Mean Girls.”

William Westwater’s (first-year) depiction of Corny Collins was spot on. His dashing smile, charismatic personality and superstar qualities portrayed the perfect show host.

“He is a constant, always happy, always fighting for the good fight but never really there,” Westwater said of his role. “He sneaks everyone in to the Baltimore eventoreum at the end, and so he is kind of the saving grace that pulls everything together at the end.”

Each member of the cast participated in the choral numbers and lined the wings of the stage in order to fill out the choral arrangements. Member of Occidental’s Glee Club also helped with the magnificent choral arrangements.

“It’s so great-this is one of the first times that the Theater department and the Glee Club have really collaborated together, and its often that both of those departments are very time consuming, and so its hard to find a way to get them together,” theater major Jake Mallove (senior) said.

It was Mallove as Edna Turnblad and undeclared Lencia Kebede (first-year) who stole the show.

Every scene with Mallove, who got the part by interpreting a combination of Paula Deen, his grandmother and Jackie Kennedy, was a joy to watch. Edna’s coming out scene in “Welcome to the ’60s” features Mallove in a hot pink ensemble complete with a pair of Barbie pink kitten heels. In a scene between Edna and “her” husband with the song “You’re Timeless to Me,” the two sing about how wonderful they find each other. At curtain draw, the audience was on the edge of their seats, waiting for their love to be sealed in a kiss. But it didn’t come.

Then, the reprise began, and the audience roared as the song was capped with a passionate kiss between Mallove and Andrew Murray (sophomore).

Kebede portrayed a more serious character. As her part in the show as Motormouth Maybelle, Kebede belted out songs about race and issues of segregation. Her singing of “I Know Where I’ve Been” was chilling. The heartfelt singing by Kebede echoed through the silenced theater that was hanging on her every word.

To put the cherry on top of a Sundae of a show, the technology team came up with the idea to put a black and white TV behind the stage, so the live audience was watching the Corny Collins show as someone in the ‘60s would have watched it. But they were also seeing the live performance in front of them. It was astonishing that such a seemingly simple technological feature could completely change the show and enhance the phenomenological experience.

The cast of the show was excited to perform a new interpretation on the classic musical. “I’d say this is a ‘Hairspray’ that we are definitely not going straight from the book on, and there are definitely some changes,” Westwater said of the show. “Most are small changes, and one big change at the end that you’ll definitely figure out. It’s interesting and it’s really fun. The feeling you get at the end of the show is nothing but pure joy.”

Freeman and the 60 students who took part in “Hairspray” created a fantastical performance that brought laughs, (near) tears, joy, sadness and applause.

“She learns that not every kid in Baltimore can dance together on TV because its segregated, and she wants to have everyone dancing, and her passion for that leads to integrating the television show,” Freeman said. “It’s wrapped up in this satiric love story, that is a social commentary, comedic, but that passion that takes us to this new level – which is complete fairytale. We all know that’s not how [integration] happened, but wouldn’t it be great if it was?”

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