Hairspray by Upper Darby High School in Drexel Hill, PA
March 12, 2019
Review submitted by Phoebe Barr of Episcopal Academy
The story of people who are shunned for being different and yet fight for their rights to life and happiness is just as relevant today as it was when the musical Hairspray was first written. The story of racism in America, and the need for young people to stand up against the bigotry of a society that fears change, is one that resonates with today’s high school population. Upper Darby High School’s production of Hairspray brings that message out in depth while also providing unbeatable dancing, humor, and optimistic fun that truly makes the show stand out.
When plus-sized Tracy Turnblad (Audrey Shaw) gets a spot on her favorite dancing show, she is heading for fame and fortune as the face of a changing world. But she does not want to forget her African-American friends who helped her get there, and she does not think it is right that they only get one day a month to dance on television. As she works to broaden the minds of those around her, she learns valuable lessons about life, love, and the importance of embracing what makes us different. Audrey Shaw brings brightness and pep to the leading role with her sunny smile and non-stop hopefulness. Bryant Carter as Seaweed, meanwhile, steals the stage with his spectacular dancing and singing. The high-energy performances of the leading cast were constantly engaging, backed up by the bold music of the orchestra.
The supporting cast brought plenty of energy as well. From the bigoted Velma Von Tussle (Emma Caughlan) to the ever-charismatic Corny Collins (Tom Geiger), actors threw themselves into their roles. The dance ensembles delighted with their lively routines, mastering difficult choreography while also imbuing it with personality. Ensembles moved in the background during solo songs, adding extra dimensions to the protagonists’ performances; in Tracy’s “I Can Hear the Bells,” dancers acted out the fantasies in Tracy’s mind while ringing bells of their own.
The show’s technical aspects were of a professional quality; the costumes sparkled, the set popped, and the lighting made scenes more vivid than they already were. The sound was excellently managed; despite the large space, everyone onstage could be heard, and the group numbers were booming. Upper Darby High School’s Hairspray was a show clearly made with dedication from all involved; the tech crew, the ensemble, and the leads. The hard work that went into this production paid off masterfully for its audience.
Review submitted by Katrina Conklin of Baldwin School
How do we teach stories of intolerance and oppression to young audiences? One way is by thoughtfully injecting important social lessons into entertaining stories. Upper Darby’s performance of Hairspray did precisely that.
Based on the 1988 musical comedy of the same name, Hairspray, set in the 1960s, follows Tracy Turnblad, a plus-sized teenager with enough energy to power the city of Baltimore. Tracy has big dreams to dance on the wildly popular Corny Collins Show – but for the show’s prejudiced producer, Velma Von Tussle, bigger isn’t always better. Upon seeing Von Tussle’s bigotry towards black dancers, Tracy realizes she is not the only victim of discrimination, and dedicates herself to fighting for inclusiveness.
The cast’s energy can only be described as explosive. The complicated choreography was no difficulty for the ensemble, who transformed the stage into a whirlwind of color and enthusiasm.
Stealing the show was Audrey Shaw as Tracy Turnblad, whose impressive voice pierced the enormous theater and made her performance nothing short of captivating. Perhaps the most animated performance, however, came from Bryant Carter’s Seaweed, a standout vocalist with unforgettable dance moves.
Rain Diaz tackled the challenging role of Edna, Tracy’s melodramatic mother with ease; his priceless facial expressions and effortless comedic timing left the audience in stitches. Another highlight of the performance was Emma Caughlan’s masterful portrayal of Velma: a taxing role not only vocally, but also in that she had to capture her character’s ruthless hatred and greed, both of which Caughlan did powerfully. And of course, who could forget Aniyah Crews’ depiction of Motormouth Mable, her vocal prowess in her solo, “I Know Where I’ve Been,” elicited a standing ovation from the audience.
If the talented cast wasn’t enough, the production’s technical elements truly brought Tracy’s Baltimore to life. Samantha Baric’s props, from real hairspray cans to hand bells to TV sets, added another layer of detail to the already intricate performance. The student orchestra consistently gave their all, from the opening number to the show-stopping finale. The set, which included numerous large stage pieces, were wielded quickly and efficiently by Upper Darby’s stage crew, who showed no intimidation by the production’s complexities.
Though Hairspray is undoubtedly a fun show, it is critical to remember Tracy and Seaweed’s fight was extremely real, and we are still fighting that same fight for racial equality today. Upper Darby’s performance was a significant win for that fight.