Performers from ages 13-20 are putting their spin on Spring Theatres’ presentation of the former Broadway hit “Hairspray: The Musical” at the Hanesbrands Theatre in Winston-Salem. Without making any major changes to the script, the performance seeks to incorporate more Black, LGBTQ and other diverse cultures in to the cast. Director Chad Edwards will be making his Spring Theatre debut in Hairspray and has been working closely with choreographer Jordan Booker-Medley to make their vision a reality.
Originally written and directed by openly gay filmmaker John Waters, “Hairspray” was initially Waters’ career break-through film in 1988 before it became a much-loved Broadway musical. This film was instrumental in bringing drag into the mainstream, with Divine cast in the role of Edna Turnblad, the main character’s mother, who is portrayed as a cisgender woman. The LGBTQ community continues to hold the original “Hairspray” film in reverence, not only for its music, choreography and wardrobe, but also as the last film to be released before Divine’s passing.
That means that Ethan Rapier, who will be playing Edna in the Spring Theatre production, has some fairly large stilettos to fill. Fortunately, Rapier is more than up to the task. “Overall,” Rapier explains, “it’s hard for me because the character I’m playing is a woman and I want to do the role justice because I’ve seen it done several times where it’s very over-the-top. And I want to do it right, not letting my predecessors down.”
The crew, choreographer and directors of Spring Theatre are certain that all of the performers’ hard work will equal a successful opening night. Dan Beckmann, artistic director of Spring Theatre, is especially enthusiastic about the play’s appeal to LGBTQ youth. “I think that teenagers right now are more in-touch with their gender identity than any generation before. The actor, [is] male-identified [and] has to be able to honestly reach a feminine side of himself to access the character of Edna, who could easily become a caricature if not portrayed in the right way.”
Both Beckmann and Erinn Dearth, the founder and executive director of Spring Theatre, selected Hairspray as a representation of what they call “the season of change.” Pointing to the differences that COVID-19 has made in everyone’s lives over the past year, Beckmann and Dearth say the idea behind this production of the show is to make change seem like a less than frightening endeavor.
Says Beckmann: “There are a lot of themes [in ‘Hairspray’]: gender identity, racial equality and body dysmorphia. Now is a time where there’s positivity surrounding those things that is needed and, frankly, always will be, but especially in the last year there’s been a lot of misunderstanding around those themes.”
Showtimes are this coming Friday, July 30 at 7 p.m., Saturday, July 31 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday, August 1 at 2 p.m., with tickets available for $15 at bit.ly/3BNcNwK.
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