‘Hairspray’ in Morristown: Young cast wraps serious themes in funny package

One hundred-ninety costumes. Eighty-five actors. Thirty wigs.

Add it all up, and you have a lot of Hairspray.

The Mayo Performing Arts Center’s youth production of the Broadway hit is bigger and brassier than last year’s inaugural community presentation, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  

Director Cathy Roy with Amanda Fletcher, teen star of 'Hairspray' at the Mayo Center. Photo by Scott Schlosser

Director Cathy Roy with Amanda Fletcher, teen star of ‘Hairspray’ at the Mayo Center. Cathy’s secret to managing 85 young actors: ‘You have to be very organized…not one minute went to waste.’ Photo by Scott Schlosser

Shifting from the Bible to Baltimore, the Morristown theater’s education program aims to wrap a modern message in a comic package, delivered with a bouncy score.

“We want to move people to laugh and cry,” Director Cathy Roy said during Wednesday’s dress rehearsal.

The cast–assembled from seven New Jersey counties and ranging in age from 7 to 21–roared through preparations for four shows this weekend: May 30, 2014, at 7:30 pm; May 31 at 2 pm and 7:30 pm, and June 1 at 2 pm. Tickets are $15; call 973-539-8008.

Photos by Scott Schlosser. Please click icon below for captions.

Billed as a family-friendly musical romp, Hairspray follows plus-size Baltimore teen Tracy Turnblad, who dreams of dancing with the cool kids on the popular Corny Collins Show in 1962.  With irrepressible good humor and unshakable confidence, she pursues stardom, teen idol Link Larkin, and racial integration–to the chagrin of the show’s catty Barbie Doll teen queens.

Roy thinks she has the perfect Tracy in 16-year-old Amanda Fletcher, a sophomore at Hanover Park High School who played a narrator last year in Joseph.

“She’s funny, she has lots of energy, she’s vibrant. Yet she is so kind, so giving. She’s a leader in our program. She’s like that with the other kids. They are drawn to her. I’ve never heard her say a bad word about anybody,” the director said.

“I wish I was more like Tracy!” Fletcher said, during a wig-fitting prior to rehearsal. “I like her personality… Link falls for Tracy because of what is inside her. She shows you don’t have to be cookie-cutter cute. Everyone is special in their own way.”

‘NEVER BE SCARED’

The themes of tolerance and acceptance resonate with the diverse cast, which has rehearsed at least three times a week since February–with 12-hour stints under hot lights over the Memorial Day Weekend.

Amanda Fletcher and Darius Lee in 'Hairspray' at MPAC. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Amanda Fletcher and Darius Lee in ‘Hairspray’ at MPAC. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“It’s a privilege to be in this show,” said Darius Lee (“Seaweed”), a Montclair State University junior who, at 19, is among the elder statesmen on the playbill.

Although the African American actor believes that 1960s racial tensions evoked in Hairspray have eased considerably, he said he still gets some stares when he walks his hometown streets in Newark with an Italian uncle.

“Whatever your color, whether you’re fat or skinny, Jewish or Muslim–we’re all the same,” he said.

Photos by Kevin Coughlin. Please see icon below for captions.

Lee tries to impart lessons from the show backstage, as a mentor to younger cast members like B.J. Bello,  a seventh-grader from the Frelinghuysen Middle School in Morris Township.

“I consider B.J. my little brother,” Lee said, as his protege looked on. “I just want to show you guys that you can do whatever you want to do. Never be scared. The arts are part of our world. You need arts, you need entertainment.”

Bello, who is making his stage debut in Hairspray, got his first taste for performing as a speaker with the New Jersey Orators,  a nonprofit that helps African American youths hone their presentation skills.

He has been paying attention during Hairspray, on-stage and off.

“Just have confidence,” Bello said. “You can be yourself, almost. I’d like to be more professional.”

‘IT SPEAKS TO TODAY’S TIMES’

County College of Morris student Branden Mangen caught the acting bug when he was about the same age as B.J. Bello, playing Kenickie in Grease.

'Hairspray,' the second annual youth production at the Mayo Center, runs from May 30-June 1, 2014. Photo by Scot Schlosser

‘Hairspray,’ the second annual youth production at the Mayo Center, runs from May 30-June 1, 2014. Photo by Scott Schlosser

“I just wanted to do it again. I loved the feeling of getting dressed up, and the lights, and the applause,” said Mangen, 19, who plays Seaweed’s right-hand man, Dwayne, in Hairspray.

It’s his third production of the Tony Award-winning musical, and he shows no signs of tiring of it.

“The message that gets across is how hard it was back in the ’60s, and how far we have come. It speaks to today’s times,” said Mangen.

He views the Morristown production as a valuable learning experience.

“I learned that there’s no part that’s too small,” he said. “Everyone works together as a team. We all do come together in the end. That makes it special.”

Dance scene from 'Hairspray' in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Dance scene from ‘Hairspray’ in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

 



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