More than big hair — “Hairspray” opens Thursday

Published 12:19 am Sunday, August 21, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Don Vesterse puts the finishing touches on cast member Leah Manoley’s hair before the dress rehearsal of “Hairspray” Thursday afternoon at the Little Natchez Theatre.

NATCHEZ — Natchez Little Theatre is reviving the days when big hair was encouraged, but blacks and whites sharing the dance floor was a no-no.

NLT will present the stage musical adaptation of the John Waters’ movie, “Hairspray” in its 64th season. The show, set in 1960s Baltimore, opens Thursday and closes with a Sunday matinee.

NLT Artistic and Executive Director Layne Taylor said “Hairspray” was chosen because not only is it a zany, toe-tapping crowd pleaser, it commemorates 50 years of civil rights in the United States.

Arden McMillin, who plays Tracy’s nemesis Amber Von Tussle, puts on her makeup backstage.

“Hairspray” centers around a lively, “rotund rabble rousing” student named Tracy Turnblad, played by Emily Ham. Turnblad, who is mocked for being a full-figured gal who just wants to dance live on Baltimore’s Corny Collins Show, believes segregation must end — and love itself is colorblind.

“Hairspray” embodies deep themes of prejudice, media, interracial dating and modern pressures on women.

“America does deal with different kinds of prejudices,” Taylor said. “Of course there’s race, but there is also prejudice against people of girth who don’t meet the Barbie doll image of the female body shoved on people in advertising, television and film,” Taylor said. “Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder, and that’s what the arts are about. Art doesn’t care. Art wants people to talk.”

But even with themes that strike a chord, audiences should prepare to laugh for the duration of the show. The script is cleverly written with enough physical comedy to entertain youngsters, and enough innuendo to push adults to the brink of hysterics.

Taylor said “Hairspray” is truly a showcase of Natchez’s talent with dozens of strong voices, comedic intensity and choreography with the largest cast to ever take the stage in an NLT production.

The dance numbers are one product of 100 hours of rehearsal logged by almost every cast member. Taylor said he had help with the choreography from lead choreographer Rachel Lindsey and assistant choreographer Thea Stewart. Gabrielle Richardson is the director of music for “Hairspray.”

When it comes to characters, Taylor said they all shine, but he’s sure folks will fall in love with Tracy.

al of “Hairspray” Thursday afternoon at the Little Natchez Theatre. Emily Ham, who plays Tracy Turnblad, sings at rehearsal.

“How can (audiences) not love Tracy Turnblad?” Taylor asked. “She’s always smiling in face of adversity, always happy and never has a negative thing to say.”

Taylor said that Tracy is a NLT stage debut for Ham.

“She’s a beautiful girl,” Taylor said. “She can dance, sing — she’s the total package.”

Ham said she auditioned for the roll, mainly because “Hairspray” is one of her top 10 favorite musical films.

Ham said her favorite scene is the dance and song number, “Welcome to the ’60s,” when she takes her mother, played by Bo Allen, for a modern makeover.

Taylor said that Allen is a professional performer and incredible asset to the show — as is Katie Sanderson, who plays Tracy’s best friend, Penny.

“She is a scream,”

Taylor said. “Incredible dancer, incredible actress.”

Penny’s love interest is Seaweed, a black student whose presence in the house causes her mother to scream, “There are colored people in my house!”

Eric Barbato plays Corny Collins — the host of Baltimore’s live teen dance show.

“Interracial dating and friendships are a part of this production as well, which is a subject that is new for us,” Taylor said. “(Interracial relationships) will be looked into further in September with Othello.”

Taylor said the recurrent subject matter is not so much intended to send a message, but to create consistency and tie the season together.

“’Hairspray’ covers it all — black, white, young, old, male, female — everything, which is our community. That is what makes Natchez an awesome place to live. We are a little bit of everything.”

Hairspray will run Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. All tickets are $15. Call 601-442-2233 for reservations. NLT is located at 319 Linton Ave. in Natchez.