Salisbury University students were wigging out over the school’s production of “Hairspray.” The actors in the musical were decked out in full 1960s fashion with hair, makeup and costumes from the era.
“Hairspray” is set in the racially charged 1960s in Baltimore. The musical focuses on “The Corny Collins Show” as an example of racial segregation.
“Hairspray” centers around Tracy Turnblad, who lands the chance of her dreams to star in her favorite television program, “The Corny Collins Show,” and realizes she wants to racially integrate the show to make every day “Negro Day.” Turnblad thinks it is unjust how all the people on the show cannot sing and dance together.
Dr. Matt Saltzberg directed SU’s production of the musical. Dr. William M. Folger was the music director and Staci Alexander was the choreographer.
SU’s production stars Alli Payne as Tracy Turnblad, Patrick Gover as Link Larkin, Caitlin Burke as Amber von Tussle, Michael Mitchell as Corny Collins, Gigi Pesaniello as Penny Pingleton, Nick Melczarek as Edna Turnblad, Michael Mott as Wilbur Turnblad, Janelle Thomas as Motormouth Maybelle, Jeremiah Copeland as Seaweed J. Stubbs and Chareese Vandyke as Little Inez.
The musical features the songs “I Know Where I’ve Been,” “Welcome to the 60s,” “Run and Tell That,” “You Can’t Stop the Beat” and more.
Rehearsals began in February. The actors rehearsed for the musical six out of seven days of the week, only excluding Saturdays which Alli Payne, a theatre performance major, said brought the cast really close together.
Payne, who plays Tracy, said she got into character by allowing herself to have fun and feel free because Tracy is an extremely optimistic character to a fault. She thought back to when she was younger, when the world seemed brighter to her.
“She’s very optimistic, very naïve…and nothing can bring her down, so I kinda had to go back to when I was her age, and everything was really nice and heartbreaks are small, and physically just let myself kinda get loose and not be afraid to jump around and not be afraid to look silly because Tracy isn’t afraid to look silly,” Payne said. “My favorite song is easily ‘Baltimore (Reprise),’ and she’s by herself singing in the jail cell because it has, in my opinion, probably one of the top five best lines, ‘I’ll eat some breakfast and change the world,’ and I think that just really just sums up Tracy as a person and sums up what all of these people are standing for — they’re just normal individuals who wanna make a difference.”
Payne believes the message of “Hairspray” is still relevant even though the play is set in the 1960s. She said the process of getting into the mindset of fighting for others regardless of their skin color was easy because she was acting alongside some of her real-life best friends.
“We’re still struggling to view each other as equals, we’re still struggling to be there for our brothers and sisters, no matter what their skin color is,” Payne said. “And some of the people in the ensemble are some of my best friends in real life, so it’s so easy for me to just get into that.”
Payne said half the costumes were made by students who were part of their wardrobe department. These students helped with any changes that were needed to the wigs and costumes.
“The costumes are incredible, the music is beautiful — you know, we have amazing, amazing musicians in there,” Payne said. “It couldn’t come together without those two.”
Chareese Vandyke, who plays Little Inez, strongly related to her character who goes after her dreams of dancing on racially integrated television. She thinks the lessons of the play are still relevant to a modern audience because racism is still a large issue in society.
“We both wanted to stand up for what we believe in,” Vandyke said. “Racism and bigotry never really die, you can’t really get rid of it, so I guess, even though it was more prevalent back then, people can still use the lessons from the play to apply to what they’re going through right now, and I’m sure it touched a lot of people.”
Patrick Gover, a music and theatre major and the actor behind Link Larkin, said he had a lot of fun doing research about the late 1950s and early 1960s, and mostly about Elvis, who he believes Link modeled himself after with his hair, his costumes and his dance moves. Gover said his favorite song from the musical is “Run and Tell That” because of its upbeat tempo and the way it brought soul and rhythm to the stage.
Gover said the most powerful part of the play was the music. He said the music does a great job of driving the message of the play home.
“The music really drove it — I mean the music is very thrilling, it always has you engaged, and that is definitely a very powerful factor,” Gover said. “And now, people are starting to listen and want to listen more, wanna really understand the story…it really has a strong impact.”
Gover said the issues of race and obesity are still relevant in today’s society. He said “Hairspray” is helping to bring people together and show them that it is okay to be different.
“For today, you know sometimes race might be brought back up, or especially in our country, obesity, and how people still shame that, and people still look at, you know, ‘You gotta look like this, you gotta look like that,’ or it’s all about this race or that race,” Gover said. “I think this show really speaks out to that, and it shows everybody that it’s okay, we’re all different, we’re all a huge family, we’re all related.”
As a fan of the film, Della Muldrow, an exercise science major, enjoyed the musical because she thought it closely matched the movie. She thought the most powerful song from the musical was “I Know Where I’ve Been.”
“I loved all the singing because I remember the movie, and I like seeing the differences between the actual play and the movie,” Muldrow said. “’I Know Where I’ve Been,’ that’s my favorite…I love it in the movie, and it was basically the same in the play, and I really enjoyed it.”
The opening of the production was moved from its original date April 6 to April 7.
“Hairspray” ran from April 7-8 and from Friday through Sunday in the Holloway Hall Auditorium.
By MELISSA REESE
Featured photo: Salisbury Theater Department graphic.