By Montague Gammon III
The Little Theatre of Virginia Beach production of the musical Hairspray brings to their near-Oceanfront stage a happy ending “story of acceptance,” filled with upbeat early 1960s song and dance, accompanied by a big (for local community theatre) band of better than a dozen musicians, and helmed by a crew of accomplished theater folk.
The show had its genesis in a 1988 comedy film by John Waters – notably the most tame he ever created – based on his memories of a teens’ dance TV show in the Baltimore of his youth.
The non-musical movie Hairspray was adapted into a stage musical in 2002, and then into a movie musical in 2007. It won 8 Tony and a host of other awards, here and in England, even though it is a very American tale.
Teen Tracy Turnblad wants to audition for the Corny Collins show but her mother, Edna, no Twiggy herself, thinks Tracy is just too big. Apparently, her school also thinks her hair style is too extreme. While dealing with the adolescent romantic matters that are theatrical conventions, she also becomes the leader of a small civil rights campaign.
The idea of prejudice against hefty females essentially leads into the real substance of the story, an attempt to integrate the Corny Collins show racially. (The real show was called the Buddy Deane show, and the real semi-successful attempts by young people to break down its strictly set racial divisions are very much like things that happen in the movies and the show.)
It could be argued that the usual practice of casting a man in drag to play Edna is yet another marker of increasing tolerance, though at the times of the first movie and the musical the dominant element there was novelty.
Hairspray’s fictionalized story, set in 1962, has all the elements of musical romance: A young girl coming of age, her supportive sub-plot friends and her teen antagonists, a teen heartthrob, a nasty villain who gets her ironic but beneficial come-uppance, lots of “big voices” and “big dance numbers” and a happy ending.
The LTVB show’s director Kay Burcher – retired from teaching and marketing jobs – has been doing theater since she was in the 3rd grade. The bug struck and stuck because “I was cast and had a good time,” she said. She went on to get a double major degree in Theater and English from Longwood and has been a mainstay of Hampton Roads community theatre as an actress, costumer, director and more, especially at Virginia Beach.
Burcher says that Hairspray is “A nice way of hearing a story that needs to be heard. It’s not pushing it down your throat or confrontational. It’s having fun while learning a lesson.”
Hairsprays’ choreographer is Karen Buchheim, another long time stalwart of LTVB. She, Burcher, and Assistant Director and LTVB Board Member Robert Shirley are teaming up on the early 60’s style costumes, and Marilyn Abernathy, who has bewigged dozens of local shows with styles back to the 1700’s is responsible for the all important “dos.”
In the always noticeable role of BBW mom Edna Turnbull, Board member Jeff Seneca, USN Retired and Suffolk School System teacher, makes his Virginia Beach stage debut, though he has directed and acted at several other local theaters.
Because the ensemble, that is, the cast members who play the dancers on the Corny Collins Show, are high school students (many from the Governor’s School for the Arts) “don’t know how tough it was [for African Americans]” in the early 1960s, Burcher says, she and others have been talking about that time period as part of the rehearsals.
The second Sunday performance of Hairspray will be followed by a “talk back,” in which the audience is invited to join the cast and invited speakers from various local organizations to discuss “civil rights and race relationships In Hampton Road and how we can improve them,” Burcher said.
Hairspray “does have a message to people when the country is struggling with relationships between different sorts of people,” she adds, but above all, she says, “It’s fun.”
WANT TO GO?
Little Theatre of Virginia Beach
550 Barberton Drive, Virginia Beach
July 13 – August 5, 2018