UNION – Almost 25 years to the day John Waters’ iconic film was released, the Kean Department of Theatre will present the Tony Award-winning musical adaptation of Hairspray from Friday, Feb. 22 to Saturday, March 2 in Kean University’s Wilkins Theatre.
Featuring music by Mark Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Mr. Shaiman, and a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Hairspray is based on Mr. Waters’ popular 1988 comedy of the same name, and received its Broadway premiere on Aug. 15, 2002.
Hairspray ran for nearly six-and-a-half years on Broadway (over 2,500 performances), and collected an unprecedented 13 Tony Award nominations in 2003, going on to win in eight categories (including Best Musical), the most wins by any production nominated that year. It has subsequently toured throughout the United States and received several high-profile international productions, including a successful run in London’s West End in 2008 that garnered a record eleven Laurence Olivier Award nominations, ultimately winning four awards (including Best New Musical). In 2007, a second feature film adaptation of Hairspray – based on the original film and Broadway musical – was released, starring John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer.
The 1988 film enjoyed just modest success at the box office, but went on to become a cult classic after its release on home video. In its initial review, the New York Times described Hairspray as “bright,” “bouncy,” and “hallucinogenic,” characterizing Mr. Waters’ direction as “goofily benign.” “The actors are best when they avoid exaggeration and remain weirdly sincere,” wrote Janet Maslin on Feb. 26, 1988. “[The film] isn’t exactly deadpan, but it’s a wildly colorful celebration of [a] bygone era, not simply a send-up.”
Hairspray was subsequently nominated for six Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Film and Best Director, and was also a nominee for the 1988 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic). In 2008 (ten years after its initial release and one year after its remake hit theatres), Hairspray was included in Empire Magazine’s list of the 500 greatest movies of all time, and currently enjoys a 97% (out of 100%) “Fresh” rating on the popular online film review aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes. Hairspray also marked the acting debut of Ricki Lake, now a popular talk show host, and is often praised for its rare inclusion – and positive depiction – of a plus-sized central female character.
Set in a blue-collar Baltimore neighborhood in 1962, Hairspray focuses on teenage dance enthusiast Tracy Turnblad, who defies her mother’s hardworking realism and auditions for the wildly popular Corny Collins Show. Rejected by egotistic producer Velma von Tussle and her “teen queen” daughter Amber for her weight, Tracy ends up catching Corny’s attention at a local school dance with her energetic moves. Once on the show, Tracy takes Baltimore by storm, eventually winning over heartthrob Link Larkin and mobilizing the city’s youth to fight television segregation. Tackling hot-button issues like racism, inequality, stereotyping, and political activism with big hair, big bodies, big dreams and undeniable spirit, it is no mystery why this story’s relevance and charms endure, and continue to inspire myriad creative incarnations.
Department of Theatre Chair Holly Logue directs Kean’s production. When asked about her decision to include Hairspray in the 2012-2013 season, she noted, “Hairspray provides balance in our varied season of theatre productions, and numerous learning opportunities; Baltimore 1962 was an interesting time in our history, and our work on Hairspray is focused quite directly on getting to know that world. The entire creative team is immersed in the styles, politics, attitudes, and customs of the period. These are real people, living in a real place during a real time – and we need to honor that through our telling, and singing, and dancing of Hairspray!”
Hairspray features choreography by Michele Mossay, musical direction by Meg Zervoulis, scenic design by Patrick Rizzotti, lighting by Nadine Charlsen, and costumes by Karen Lee Hart. The production boasts a cast of 32 actors and a production staff of fourteen. When asked about the challenges she’s faced at the helm of a show of this magnitude, Logue answered readily, “The size and scope. There are over twenty musical numbers! Imagine the time it has taken our music director and choreographer to teach the layered harmonies and choreography to a cast of thirty-two.”
Hairspray opens Friday, February 22 at 8 p.m. in Kean University’s Wilkins Theatre. Additional performances include: Saturday, Feb. 23 at 2 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 24 at 2 p.m.; Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 8 p.m.; Thursday, Feb. 28 at 5 p.m.; Friday, March 1 at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, March 2 at 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. The performance on Feb. 28 will be followed by a post-show discussion.
All tickets are $15, and may be purchased online at www.keanstage.com or by calling the Kean Box Office at 1-908-737-7469.
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