By Sean Anthony Chia
April 11, 2016
On Friday, April 1, 2016, NYU's elite student performance group known as Tisch New Theatre (TNT) opened its production of Hairspray at the Skirball Center for Performing Arts. It was no joke.
Hairspray follows the story of Baltimore native Tracy Turnblad (Casey Whyland, pictured above) who dreams of being on the Corny Collins Show. Corny Collins (Matt McLean) and his Nicest Kids in Town light up the stage with their detailed, quick movement and their commitment to big hair and bright smiles. Tracy doesn't get the warmest welcome by Velma von Tussel (Taylor Johnson) and her daughter Amber (Haley Callahan Fish), who become increasingly jealous over the plump girl's success.
After getting on the show, Tracy is invited to Mr. Pinky's Hefty Hideaway as a new fashion effigy. Tracy brings her mother Edna (Jacob Voigt) to Mr. Pinky's store in the memorable number "Welcome to the 60s". Mr. Pinky (Drew Carr) gives the two a makeover. Carr slays the stage with a new rendition of the Pinky role and makes Tracy and Edna feel beautiful again. Edna and Tracy's father Wilbur (Emilio Madrid) support their daughter as she and her best friend Penny Pingleton (Sarah Musicant, pictured below) fight to integrate the show. Whyland and Musicant re-imagine the iconic roles with their humorous interjections and booming voices. Tracy falls in love with Link Larkin (Colten Blair), who, however, is intensely recalcitrant to join the fight.
Penny falls in love with Seaweed (Austin Crute, pictured below), who invites her and Tracy to his house. Crute's high energy, incredible dancing ability, and lovable personality animates the stage and serves a beautiful balance to Musicant's execution of Penny. Motormouth Maybelle (Ada Obieshi) welcome Tracy and her friends with open arms. Obieshi's voice fills the theatre with great resonance and demands the audience to listen to the important message.
Together Tracy, Link, Seaweed, and Penny lead a protest to integrate the Corny Collins Show. They, however, are unsuccessful. After being arrested and then, as happy stories go, getting out of jail, their efforts to integrate the show become successful.
Set designer Ryan Wilbat and lighting designer Kelley Shih transport the 2016 New York stage to 1962 Baltimore by contouring the stage multi-leveled, movable platforms and deep colors. Music director Benjamin Weiss leads a major orchestra and featured pit singers who help further electrify the quality sound of the musical. The stage and sound is especially invigorating in the closing number "You Can't Stop the Beat", which urged the audience to applaud in a standing ovation.
With the clever, bold direction and choreography by Marc Anthony Ferre, TNT's Hairspray sets precedent for student work. Ferre modernizes the timeless musical with variety in dance and precision in staging choices. Ferre grasps the relevance of Hairspray noting, "Today's world needs more Tracy Turnblads in our effort to breakdown prejudice of all kinds--whether it be race, sexual orientation, religion, or body image...I hope Tracy's journey in battling prejudice inspires you to do the same in your everyday lives--because together we can do so much more to overcome what has divided us in the past." Ferre's devotion to the cast and story is illuminated in "Without Love", which reminded the audience of the all-encompassing nature of love, as we saw a variety of pairings at the end of the number; and, it sparkled in the show-stopping number "I Know Where I've Been", where Motormouth and her ensemble stand hand-in-hand with Tracy and her family, singing directly to the audience, calling the audience to action. TNT reaches new levels and serves as an incubator for great talent both on and off the stage. We can't wait to see what comes next.
Cast: Casey Whyland, Jacob Voigt, Sarah Musicant, Link Larkin, Haley Callahan Fish, Austin Crute, Ada Obieshi, Matt Mclean, Emilio Madrid, Taylor Johnson, Kayla Coleman, Chloe Troast, Maksim Tokarev, Drew Carr, Damarcus Bell, Ariel Blackwood, Sojourner Brown, Megan Callahan, Tony Carrubba, Jordan-Amanda Hall, Naree Ketudat, Malichi Morris, Whitney Mulhern, Martavius Parrish, Andy Richardson, Marcus "Zebrakid" Smith, Portland Thomas, Sarah Treanor, and Daniel Youngelman. Pit singers: Jake Friedman, Rose Generoso, Matt Guro, Tara Muoio, Dale Roeck II, Ursula Seymour, and Laura Spineti.
"Hairspray" was produced by Jason Arnold in association with Tisch New Theatre and NYU Skirball Center.