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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 15, 2012

In Hairspray
“Characters have little journeys
that relate to one big journey:
Everyone can get along if they try”

GUILDERLAND — Beneath the froth of teased locks and sixties’ rock, Hairspray has a message of substance.

“People will find it charming,” said Andy Maycock, who is directing The Guilderland Players’ production on stage this weekend at the high school. “They expect Grease, something simple and goofy, but, really, it’s a lot more than that.”

Maycock himself, a long-time English teacher and director, was surprised by the challenges of Hairspray. The musical is based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name. More mainstream than most of Waters’s films, Hairspray, like the rest, is set in Baltimore and many of the characters have his trademark alliterative names. It has become a cult classic.

“We had hoped to do something lighter and easier after The Phantom of the Opera last year,” said Maycock. “But this turned out to be equally complicated. The vocal harmonies appear easy but they’re not. The scenery is elaborate, and the dancing is complex.”

The Guilderland Players, though, were up to the challenge.

The scenery, Maycock said, is based on his drawings that “the students bring to life.” He went on, “Their solutions to my ideas are very innovative.”

On the very first day of school, in September, senior Erik Keating came up with a way to build studio TV cameras. “He said, ‘Here’s the supplies list,’” recalled Maycock, marveling that it was for a show in March.

Keating is the same student who solved the problem of building the chandelier for last year’s Phantom of the Opera. He’s going to college next year to study theatrical design, which Maycock described as a combination of art, engineering, architecture, and, of course, theater.

Two Guilderland graduates — Christine Meglino and Erin Parks, both in the Class of 2005 — are the choreographers. “The dancing,” said Maycock, “is youthful, not quite contemporary, and very exciting.”

Dancing is at the center of Hairspray as it focuses on The Corny Collins Show, a local dance TV program like American Bandstand. Tracy Turnblad — a teenager, who describes herself as “pleasantly plump” — dreams of dancing on the show and, once she wins a role, sets out to integrate the show.

“She’s a fabulous dancer but is turned away at first because she’s different than everyone else,” said Maycock. “Once she gets on, she says, ‘I would make every day Negro Day’” — a reference to the once-a-month Corny Collins program when African Americans dance on the show.

“She has diverse friends,” said Maycock of the Tracy Turnblad character. “It’s a great story about civil rights and accepting other cultures, races, body types, and attitudes. It’s fun and very sincere.”

He went on about The Guilderland Players, “The kids have been very moved by it. Every school has cliques…At the Guilderland Players, we let everyone join. Even if you don’t know what a hammer is, show up and we’ll put you to work.”

Asked if there were enough African-American students to play the parts, Maycock said, “We put out a plea…We didn’t have a lot try out…The Motormouth crew,” he said, referring to Motormouth Maybelle, the host of Negro Day, “is a mixture. We have students of Asian descent in there. It makes it universal.”

Maycock summarized the musical’s overarching theme this way: “It’s showing how people struggle to get past segregation,” he said.

Many little journeys

The cast is headed by Rachel Young as Tracy Turnblad. A senior, she was the understudy last year for the leading role in The Phantom of the Opera and played the part in one of the four productions.

“She’s a great kid with a great smile and a great voice,” said Maycock. “If we need an extension microphone, we’ll take Rachel’s. She’ll blow the roof off, even without it.”

He concluded, “She exudes charisma and confidence.”

Tracy’s mother, Edna, is played by Michael Higgins. Maycock said a male was cast for the part in keeping with tradition. In the original Waters film, Divine played the role of Tracy’s heavyset mother. (Harris Glenn Milstead, known for his drag queen persona, was nicknamed Divine by Waters, a childhood friend who cast him in many films.) John Travolta played Edna in the 2007 film.

Higgins, a Guilderland senior “is almost a Shakespearean actor,” said Maycock. “He has a tremendously resonant voice.”

Higgins has been playing his part in high heels for the last two months. “We’re adding a fat suit, dress, and wig,” said Maycock. “He’s a really good sport, going outside his comfort zone.”

Maycock also said of a male playing a female, “It’s hard to do without making it a stereotype…Mike is playing it straight; he’s not really hamming it up.”

Motormouth Maybelle, the record-shop owner who hosts Negro Day, is played by Alexis Adams, a Guilderland junior. She is the mother of Seaweed, played by Geoffrey Snow, and Little Inez, played by Jin Lee.

Adams sings a passionate, powerful song, “I Know Where I’ve Been,” towards the end of the play. “It’s kind of a gospel sound,” said Maycock….She sang it for Martin Luther King Day and they showed it on the school news…It’s not fluff.”

According to Marc Shaiman who wrote the music and, with Scott Wittman, wrote the lyrics for Hairspray, having Motormouth sing the song was controversial. “We simply didn’t want our show to be yet another show-biz version of a civil rights story where the black characters are just background,” Shaiman said in an interview published in The Roots. “And what could be more Tracy Turnblad-like than to give the ‘eleven o’clock number’ to the black family at the heart of the struggle? Luckily…the audiences embraced this moment, which enriches the happy ending to follow, and it is our proudest achievement of the entire experience of writing Hairspray.”

Francesca Soldevere plays Amber, “the perfect blonde, the play’s villain,” said Maycock. Her mother, Velma von Tussle, played by Karissa Murray, doesn’t approve of Tracy trying out for the show.

Amber plays her part so well that Maycock’s 12-year-old daughter said, after watching a rehearsal, “She’s really mean.”

Amber’s boyfriend, Link Larkin, is played by Michael Janower. “Mike is a legit musician; he plays the piano,” said Maycock. “The poor guy — I haven’t let him cut his hair for four months.”

Describing Link’s role, Maycock went on, “Link likes Tracy but feels pressured to back away. Then, when she wants to integrate the show, he backs her up.”

Geoffrey Snow plays Seaweed. “This is his fourth musical,” Maycock said of Snow. “He’s a great dancer. At a recent rehearsal, where Snow was expected to do a pirouette, he did a double pirouette. “I just went with it,” he said.

His character, Seaweed, meets Tracy in detention. “That’s where the African Americans end up,” said Maycock. “The teachers don’t know where else to put them. Tracy uses his dance to get on the show.”

Samantha Pitkin plays Tracy’s best friend, Penny Pingleton. “She’s a tiny little thing,” said Maycock. “Her mother is really against any kind of segregation. She thinks rock and roll is a bad influence.”

Penny’s mother, Prudy Pingleton, is played by Clare Ladd.

“Penny breaks out when she falls in love with Seaweed,” said Maycock. “She’s a proud young woman.”

He said, “Lots of the characters have little journeys that relate to one big journey…Everyone can get along if they try.”

Maycock concluded, “This show is good for everybody,” as he spoke about the appeal to both ends of the age spectrum. “Little kids will get the bright colors, the dance, the love story.” And older folks will be able to recall and reminisce over the 1960s. “I set aside dozens of tickets for the senior citizens,” said Maycock.

“Whether you were alive in 1962 or not,” he said, “this show will reach you.”


Hairspray plays on the Guilderland High School stage, on School Street in Guilderland Center, on Thursday, March 15, through Saturday, March 17, at 7 p.m., and on Sunday, March 18, at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $5, $7, and $10, with the more expensive seats in the center, and can be purchased at the door or reserved by calling the high school at 861-8591.

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