By Gaby Del Valle
April 4, 2016
This past weekend, Skirball was full of excited theatre-goers ready to see “Hairspray,” student club Tisch New Theatre‘s fifth production. I was one of them, but I didn’t quite know what to expect or how to feel.
Full disclosure: I’m a person who generally likes theatre, and I obviously like music (I’m not a monster), but I rarely like the two when combined. It’s not that I dislike musical theatre—I find that most people have extreme feelings about the genre, ranging from adoration to abhorrence—I’m just not typically interested in it. TNT’s “Hairspray”proved to be an exception to my usual indifference towards the genre.
The show was fun and campy without veering into cheesiness. The cast was incredibly talented and the costumes, set, lighting, and sound were expertly managed—a feat for any theatre production, but it is even more remarkable when you realize that the TNT is a completely student-run, student-organized, and student-funded club created to make performance accessible to all NYU students, not just those who are in the Tisch Drama program.
By far the most remarkable aspect of TNT’s production of “Hairspray” is how relevant it felt. For the uninitiated, “Hairspray” (an adaptation of the 1988 John Waters film of the same name) is the story of Tracy Turnblad (played by Casey Whyland, Liberal Studies ’18), a plucky teenager growing up in Baltimore in the early ‘60s, who dreams of being a famous performer. Tracy seems like she has everything going against her—she’s overweight, perpetually awkward, and generally uncool—but after picking up some dance moves from Seaweed (Austin Crute, Tisch Clive Davis ’18) a black classmate she meets in detention, she lands a role on the popular Corny Collins Show. Instead of letting fame get to her head, Tracy uses her newfound success to try and integrate the show, which only showcases black dancers and performers once a month on “Negro Day.”
“Hairspray” is a fairly straightforward. feel-good tale about doing the right thing, but the TNT cast and crew made the musical theater classic feel fresh and relevant to recent conversations about race and diversity in education and pop culture. During “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful” and the passionate “I Know Where I’ve Been,” both led by powerhouse Ada Obieshi (Tisch Recorded Music ’18) playing Motormouth Maybelle, the cast truly shines, giving the audience a moment to realize that that the problems of “Hairspray” aren’t limited to the ‘60s.
Racial representation and body-positivity are still contested issues today—think #OscarsSoWhite—and the cast of TNT’s “Hairspray” reminds us these battles are far from over.