One of the many bright spots in “Hairspray” came for me at the very beginning, when Aria Moore got out of her vertical bed and began singing “Good Morning Baltimore.” As the production’s youngest cast member and one with a major role, Moore carries a disproportionate share of the burden of making the whole thing work, and from that first moment it was clear that she was more than up to the task.
Performing alongside accomplished adult performers from Juneau Lyric Opera – including the deliciously wicked Eve Dillingham and a delightful David Miller in drag -- this Juneau Douglas High School junior not only held her own but managed to shine forth as one of the production’s strongest elements. Moore plays Tracy Turnblad, a plump teen who dreams of landing a spot as a dancer on her favorite TV program. The role demands confidence and a strong stage presence, as Turnblad fights back against the racism and bigotry of the early 60s, bucking the status quo for outsiders everywhere -- and Moore meets that challenge with ease. Best of all for this audience member -- and especially considering this is a musical -- was her singing voice, clear and sweet.
Also strong are the other young cast members — Andrew Raney, a senior at Thunder Mountain High School, as Link Larkin, Tracy’s love interest, and Andre Bunton, a student at UAS and a former JDHS actor, as Seaweed Stubbs, a role that showcased Bunton’s dancing talents as well as singing and acting.
On the JLO side, Dillingham as Velma Von Tussle and Miller as Tracy’s mother Edna Turnblad (a role traditionally played by a man) are standouts, as are their frequent stage partners, Frances Leach (Amber Von Tussle, Velma’s daughter) and Michael Wittig (Wilbur Turnblad, Edna’s husband). Dillingham and Leach are perfectly cast and it’s great fun to watch them interact on stage, dishing out their nasty, overlapping commentary as the wickedly shallow mother-daughter counterparts to Tracy and Edna.
Though it touches on serious issues, “Hairspray” is the kind of show that gives you a good feeling as you walk out the door. It’s got an uplifting message about breaking down social barriers and challenging racism, it’s got romance, it’s got music (a 10-piece orchestra in the pit, co-directed by Richard Moore and pianist Rosie Humphery), and it’s got lots of dancing (choreographed by Becky Engstrom and Janice Hurley), which in the story becomes an engine for social change. Costumer Renee Fisher and assistant costumer Shelly Wright did a masterful job with the brightly colored 1960s dresses, particularly in outfitting Miller’s more flamboyant and glamorous outfits toward the end. And stage designer Nathan Rodda, resident designer for the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society, created the beautifully dynamic and yet simple sets that changed rapidly over the course of 14 scenes.
The good feeling of the piece also comes from watching one’s neighbors – old and young – put together a production of this scale for our pleasure. And from the fact that they are having so much fun with it.
”Hairspray” was directed by Hal Ryder, from Cornish College of the Arts, who was last in town to head up JLO’s “The Mikado” in 2009. That production, the first Thunder Mountain ever hosted, also featured student talent from TMHS, though mostly behind the scenes. Ryder, a director with more than 40 years experience in the theater, is also a teacher who has worked all over the world, including in Sitka at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp.
Another key player was JDHS Theatre Department director Michaela Moore, who helped get the show back on track after an initial complete cancellation due to scheduling issues. Working with Moore to make that happen were the show’s producers, John Clough and Scarlett Adam.
“Hairspray” is the first joint production by Juneau Lyric Opera and JDHS. Funds raised from this performance, and from sales of refreshments during the break, will go to help pay for the JDHS theater department’s upcoming trip to Scotland to perform as part of the prestigious American High School Theater Festival organization in the International Festival Fringe in Edinburgh Scotland in August.
To read more about the JDHS trip to Scotland, visit www.capitalcityweekly.com/stories/050212/new_986753487.shtml.
“Hairspray” runs through this weekend, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For more information, visit juneauopera.org.
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