At a time when race relations are making headlines for all the wrong reasons, it was strange to sit at the Paramount Theatre watching Hairspray — The Broadway Musical. The larger-than-life story about a plus-sized teen who sets out to be part of an afternoon dance show and ends up changing race relations in her town. The fun, brightly-colored musical set to dance music has so many connections to today’s news.
Tracy Turnblad, played with joy by Amelia Jo Parish, is an old soul in a teenager’s body. She seems like an average teenager trying to survive high school. She runs home every afternoon to watch the Corny Collins Show, a local dance show. She dreams of being a regular dancer on the show, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she doesn’t look like all the other dancers. When she gets her shot, she encounters the stereotypical “mean girls” described in every anti-bullying program.
Devin DeSantis is a wonderful Corny Collins. He manages to balance the need to maintain his television persona with his awareness of the changing world. Corny plays a pivotal role in changing race relations. He can help pull off the big moment because those around him underestimate his true feelings and personal strength.
When E. Faye Butler, performing as Motormouth Maybelle, tells her stories about the Civil Rights Movement, you want to admire her place in history. At the same time you realize how much work is left to be done. It is as if all her work needs to be repeated with every generation, almost like time is standing still because it’s the same battle year after year. She sings a few songs that bring down the house. Her voice stopped everyone as she told her story through emotional songs. Butler, who was inducted into Women in the Arts Museum in Washington D.C. , anchors the story with her belief that one day race relations will improve, making all her hard work worth the struggle.
What keeps the whole story from being depressing is the underlying joy that each character brings to the stage. Even though each character struggles, each person tries to help each other. They work together when things get hard and stick together throughout the story. It’s not always easy, yet the end result makes it worth the effort. It’s an apt metaphor for what we saw on the stage. The story could have been uncomfortable, but the cast brings such joy to the stage that you enjoy every uncomfortable moment. The songs, dances and performances make Hairspray — The Broadway Musical an enjoyable event for the whole family.
Shari writes about Two Times the Fun. Image courtesy Liz Lauren for the Paramount Theatre.
Disclosure: I received two media passes to attend the opening night performance. My words and opinions are my own.
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