NYU's Tisch New Theatre Opens "Hairspray"

NYU's Tisch New Theatre Opens "Hairspray"

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.

Tisch New Theatre Stages Fresh Rendition of ‘Hairspray’

Tisch New Theatre Stages Fresh Rendition of ‘Hairspray’

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.

Tisch New Theater Get Grooving With ‘Hairspray’

Tisch New Theater Get Grooving With ‘Hairspray’

By Laura Casado
April 4, 2016

Tisch New Theatre’s production of “Hairspray” was a conglomerate of passion and talent, filled from start to finish with magical moments.

The musical, set in 1960s Baltimore, follows the journey of Tracy Turnblad (Casey Whyland), a full-figured teen who longs to join the picture-perfect “Nice Kids” dance crew on a local television program, “The Corny Collins Show.” Throughout the show, Tracy endures taunts and judgements regarding her size, and fights alongside black “Negro Day” dancers to combat the discrimination they face, an example being that they are only allowed on-air performance once a month. The show is bubbly and upbeat while also sending a powerful message regarding sizeism and racism that, unfortunately, is still relevant today. 

The entire cast, from ensemble to lead, was phenomenal. Casey Whyland, a Liberal Studies sophomore, starred as Tracy Turnblad. Her voice beautifully carried numbers like “Good Morning, Baltimore” and “I Can Hear the Bells,” accompanied by phenomenal acting. Whyland mixed aspects from Lena Dunham of “Girls” and Rebel Wilson of “Pitch Perfect,” creating a hilariously brash and dynamic Tracy. Sarah Musicant, a Tisch freshman, displayed wildly impressive vocals as the adorably gawky Penny Pingleton, alongside junior Haley Callahan Fish as the flouncy Amber Von Tussle, whose combined prowess of dance, voice, and spot-on comedic timing was unparalleled. Clive Davis student Austin Crute swept the stage as Seaweed, giving a high-energy performance of dancing and singing that had every audience member jamming along. The show’s most tender moments were dominated by powerhouse Ada Obieshi as Motormouth Maybelle, especially in “I Know Where I’ve Been.” 

Lighting design by NYU senior Kelley Shih was gorgeously fresh. The stage was alternately washed in magentas and midnight purples, with hazy reds for scenes like “The Legend of Miss Baltimore Crabs,” and ocean turquoise blues for “Timeless to Me.” Select scenes, however, such as jail in “The Big Dollhouse,” lacked enough front lights, leaving many actors’ faces in shadows. The sound was intermittently problematic as well, from Little Inez’s mic being dead during her “Run and Tell That” solo, which as a result was inaudible, to the “It Takes Two” duet where the vocal volume of Whyland’s Tracy and Link Larkin (Steinhardt graduate student Colten Blair) was unequally balanced. Several other solos were unfortunately drowned out by the magnificent 16-piece orchestra. 

The show’s most outstanding aspect were the ensemble dance numbers. Director/choreographer Marc Anthony Ferre, a recent Tisch graduate, could not have done a more stellar job, incorporating classic ‘60s moves in stunningly high-speed sequences which were executed flawlessly by every ensemble member. The second song, “Nicest Kids in Town,” deserved a standing ovation of its own forits choreography. 

A stand-out in the cast was Steinhardt senior Drew Carr in a dual role. His portrayal of Mr. Pinky was uproariously flamboyant andhe far outshined his counterparts as Corny Collins dancer Brad. Carr emits contagious energy with every step he executes, creating a performance that is pure joy to watch. 

TNT’s “Hairspray,” regarding every facet that makes musical theatre great, is one that future generations of NYU performers will find difficult to trump. 

“Hairspray” played at Skirball Center for the Performing Arts this past weekend. 

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 4 print edition. Email Laura Casado at theater@nyunews.com.

Thinking Big: TNT’s HAIRSPRAY’s XXL Statement

Thinking Big: TNT’s HAIRSPRAY’s XXL Statement

By Elizabeth Katz
April 4, 2016

A student-run theatre club decides to put on a production of Hairspray at NYU. You’re probably thinking it’ll be a heartfelt, but shoddy attempt – maybe in a dorm dance room with no lighting, sound, or set. The cast will sing along to prerecorded karaoke tracks, and the costumes will be scraped together from thrift store shopping sprees. But no, the performance I saw on Friday, April 1st was exactly the opposite, and that’s because it was crafted by Tisch New Theatre.

The organization, which involves students from all schools within NYU, is no joke. Directed and choreographed with intention and precision by Marc Anthony Ferre, and remarkably produced by Jason Arnold, Hairspray is currently playing in the Skirball Center, to a house of 850. The sheer size of the proscenium stage should tell you something about the group’s prominence on campus. And, certainly, part of TNT’s reputation comes from the fact that they go full out for their shows. The well-designed set of Hairspray fills the stage with a 60s mod vibe, while colorful lights hit the background and illuminate the figures onstage. The actors are dressed in gorgeous dresses and vibrant suits, and the wigs are beautifully styled and maintained. The production elements for such a big musical should be highly valued, and TNT fully invests in constructing the perfect atmosphere, so that the magic of musical theatre can happen onstage. The creative team for this show may be mostly students, but they are definitely not amateurs.

Nor are the performances. The light-hearted, but high-energy story of a dance-loving teenage girl, following her dreams and defying expectations, in 1960’s Baltimore, is in good hands with this cast. Sophomore Casey Whyland leads the show with her genuine and hilarious portrayal of Tracy Turnblad. Her distinctly bell-like voice rings with ease, and she captures every ounce of the character’s charm; we love Whyland’s kind-hearted and audacious Tracy, and we cheer her on through the end. As we watch the powerhouse knock down every obstacle and prejudice in her way, we understand why Tracy’s optimistic spirit is so infectious for everyone around her. But at the “Corny Collins Show,” where Tracy gains a spot as a dancer, she faces serious judgment about her appearance, and her support of racial integration. The ringleader of the bullying is the obnoxious star of the show, Amber VonTussle, played with a delicious nastiness by junior Haley Callahan Fish. Her manipulative mother Velma, portrayed with intensity by senior Taylor Johnson, also serves as the producer of the TV show, and continually puts Tracy down in order to promote Amber.

But, luckily, Tracy has the charismatic Corny Collins himself on her side (a delightful and beguiling performance from senior Matt McLean). He’s not the only one rooting for the plucky teen; the show’s heartthrob, Link Larkin, played by the precious Colten Blair, takes special interest in Tracy’s bravery, and the two find a deeper connection. And Tracy’s best friend, Penny Pingleton, may not be the smartest, but her lovable liveliness reassures Tracy throughout the show. Freshman Sarah Musicant brings a perfectly spastic and silly energy to Penny. Senior Jacob Voigt plays Tracy’s mother, Edna, with a lovely presence, particularly once she leaves her laundry at home and hits the town in “Welcome to the Sixties,” receiving a full makeover. As she makes her transformation, we see a new confidence blossom in Edna, and it’s all thanks to Tracy. Still, Tracy’s whacky father is another essential part of her support system. Wilbur continually urges his daughter to do the right thing, and his dorky, but endearing sensibility rubs off on Tracy (junior Emilio Madrid gets big laughs as Wilbur).

Tracy befriends Seaweed, a cool, magnetic, black guy, who is also a great dancer (the captivating Austin Crute), and she meets his mother, Motormouth Maybelle, the host of the Corny Collins Show on the monthly “Negro Day.” Motormouth, portrayed knowingly by sophomore Ada Obieshi, whose voice is stunning, continuously inspires and advises Tracy, and the two join together to protest the TV show’s inherent segregation; Seaweed’s sister, Little Inez (sophomore Kayla Coleman), auditioned for a spot as a dancer and was immediately turned away because of the color of her skin. By combining their efforts, Tracy and Motormouth’s crew are able to ambush the Miss Teenage Hairspray competition, and integrate television by dancing together. Seaweed and Penny even announce their romance while onscreen, and Penny’s uptight mother Prudy, the very funny Chloe Troast, comes to accept the couple. Link and Tracy end up together, Edna finds the confidence to appear on live television, the VonTussles get their just desserts, and the Corny Collins Show – and the fight for racial justice – is propelled forward.

Hairspray does have a very inspiring message of acceptance and love, but it is also just an extremely entertaining show to watch. The incredible dancing in TNT’s production really brings the performance to the next level. Not only is the choreography precise and lively, but it’s also flawlessly executed in unison by the nonstop ensemble. And the performers’ stamina is beyond impressive; they seem to hardly break a sweat, while going full force on fast moving, vigorous dances – and singing, too. You really can’t stop their beat.

Hairspray is impressive alone, but when we consider that it was mounted by NYU students, it makes us really appreciate the talent and drive of our classmates. If the cast and crew of Hairspray can put together this stunning, spectacular production on their own, and if a regular teenage girl can change the future of television, it seems we can do anything we put our minds  and hearts to. As Tracy says, “you gotta think big to be big.” Tisch New Theatre does think big, and they pull it off with Hairspray – big time.

Tisch New Theater Takes On The Original Rule-Breaking Musical

Tisch New Theater Takes On The Original Rule-Breaking Musical

By Alicia Fine
November 13, 2015

Long before Hamilton was revolutionizing Broadway, Stephen Sondheim’sCompany was changing conventions about what a musical could be. The show revolves around single Bobby, and the five married couples that he calls his best friends. In 1970 the show premiered on the Great White Way, presenting a modern take on adult relationships that was less plot driven and more character driven. 45 years later, NYU’s Tisch New Theatre group broughtCompany to a new generation of theatergoers this past weekend.

The sold-out run was staged in The Grand Hall, an event room attached to the Kimmel Center. Though not a designated theater space, the room was transformed with a simple tiered stage and intimate, candlelit tables for the audience. The venue allowed for some particularly striking production elements: at the start of the show the window curtains were ceremoniously raised revealing the gorgeous Manhattan skyline, a far better backdrop than any artist could have rendered.

The performances were commendable and believable, despite the characters being a decade or more older than the average college student. A few quips about age made by older couple, Joanne and Larry, lost some of their comedic nature with a cast made up of people of the same age, but any issues were easily made up for by the commitment of the actors. Ashley Coia’s rendition of “The Ladies Who Lunch,” one of the most beloved and well-known songs of the show, was a standout.

Another particularly notable performance was Olivia Wendel’s portrayal of the lovably neurotic bride, Amy. The difficult “Getting Married Today” was attacked at breakneck speed, and she nailed it.  Bobby’s flight attendant girlfriend was also perfectly cast. Caroline Keegan brought April to life with just the right balance of ditziness and strength. In fact, the whole cast deserves a nod for their embodiment of their characters. Each one had a distinct personality, which was particularly apparent during the impressively staged group numbers, like “Side by Side by Side.”

Tisch New Theatre Takes “Company” to The Grand Hall

Tisch New Theatre Takes “Company” to The Grand Hall

By Addy Baird
September 9, 2015

Last May, they raised nearly $50,000 and sold out the 900-seat Skirball Center with their three-night production of “Catch Me if You Can.” Last week, they filled 204 audition slots for their next production, “Company,” in a single day. Today, there is little doubt that NYU theater club Tisch New Theatre is a force to be reckoned with.

“Tisch New Theatre started out because there was a pressing need for non-drama majors to be able to work on theater,” Jason Arnold explained. Arnold, a junior in the production and design studio at Tisch, serves as the club’s co-president. Though the club is several years old, it was inactive during the 2013-2014 school year, and the club’s production of “Catch Me if You Can” served as a resurrection and reinvention for the club. “A lot of what we did last semester was proving that we could do something,” said co-president Marc Ferre, a senior studying film and TV. “And now that we’ve proven it, the whole experience is a lot more positive and we’re trusted a lot more.” Arnold agrees — “It’s been legitimized.”

With more money in the club’s account (thanks to great ticket sales from “Catch Me”), Arnold and Ferre head up the creative team for “Company,” which will premiere this November. Arnold is the show’s producer and Ferre its choreographer. They’re joined by junior acting major Alice Kors, who is directing the production. Auditions are currently underway, with open auditions having begun on Tuesday and callbacks running through Friday.

But “Company” won’t be “Catch Me” all over again. “Given the fact that we’re trying to do two shows a year, it wouldn’t make sense to do a huge show in the fall and another huge show in the spring.” Ferre said, “With this one we’re just trying to play with the same quality of production, just in a more intimate setting.” Intimate is a word they use a lot to describe their vision for “Company” and intimate it will be: The production will go on at The Great Hall which holds only 180-200 people. “So it’s very intimate,” Arnold said. “We’re going for a very intimate cabaret feel.”

“Company,” written by Broadway deities Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, is the story of one single man, Bobby, five married couples who are his best friends, and his three girlfriends. The characters are older and more mature than a significant portion of NYU students, but director Alice Kors believes the show transcends age. “[It’s] ultimately about connection and finding out what that means to other people and what that means for yourself,” she said. “In this 21st century world, we’re so caught up in connecting virtually and creating a perfect life on Instagram, but how do you keep a connection when things get rough? We need to learn to tough things out a little bit more and truly connect a little bit more.” Amen, girl.

“Company” will premiere November 7 and run through the 9 at NYU’s Grand Hall in the Kimmel Center. Tickets will go on sale in early October, $15 for students, $20 for faculty and alumni, and $25 general admission. To learn more about the production you can visit their website and Facebook page.

Tisch New Theatre’s ‘Catch’ delights

Tisch New Theatre’s ‘Catch’ delights

By Taylor Turner
April 8, 2015

Tisch New Theatre recently mounted their spring main stage musical: “Catch Me If You Can,” which details the life of famous con-artist Frank Abagnale, Jr. at Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Framed as a ’60s musical variety show, Frank takes the audience through the years of his life as a con artist with the help of an impeccable dance ensemble and a lively score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman.

Director and choreographer Philip Colgan, a senior in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, has created a spectacle unparalleled by most of NYU’s theater scene. In an educational forum defined by strict minimalism, Colgan and his team, headed by producer Jason Arnold, a sophomore in Tisch, created a rich aesthetic through their mesmerizing production. His choreography, created with junior Tisch film student Marc Anthony Ferre, breathed life into certain numbers. Sharp, stylized movements and a constantly moving background reenergize the material for the hectic pace of modern life.

The cast is led by Steinhardt senior Jarrad Biron Green — fresh off playing Tony in the national tour of “West Side Story” — whose voice soars above the score’s demands with ease. Green’s quirky stage persona gives a relatability to Frank, particularly in his most tragic moments, which keeps the audience rooting for him while he is pursued by Carl Hanratty, who is played by Tisch senior Danté Jeanfelix. Jeanfelix nails an impressive balancing act between the awkward discomfort his FBI agent character feels in his career and the confident movement of his musical numbers, particularly “Don’t Break the Rules” — a thumping, jazzy dance number.

Sophomore Kylie Cipolla plays Frank’s love interest Brenda Strong with an honest, wide-eyed sweetness. Although she is not given as much material as the leading men — she only appears in Act Two and sings twice — Cipolla brings herself to what she has been given. Her rendition of “Fly, Fly Away” is belted with impressive strength.

The supporting cast is just as colorful. Damian Quinn as Frank Abagnale Sr. grounds himself in a persona far beyond his years with his baritone voice and an emotional connection that speaks to a commitment to character transformation. Ashley Coia finds a rewarding, sensual humanity as Paula, Frank’s mother, and Mallory Minerson and Emilio Madrid keep the crowd in stitches as Brenda’s parents, a picture-perfect Southern couple.

Overall, the cast perfectly executes this enormous show. A group of students from varying performance backgrounds and fields of study, ranging from Tisch actors to Poly engineers, put on a show of this massive scale with passion and dedication.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, April 8 print edition. Email Taylor Turner at theater@nyunews.com.