Rob Tendy, left, from Putnam Valley, playing the role of Link Larkin; Michelle Goldrich of Albertson, as Tracy Turnblad; and Matt Gaska of Endicott as Edna Turnblad, star in the Theatre Department's production of "Hairspray."
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
‘Hairspray’ to stand out on Watters stageTweet
With 25 actors requiring multiple costume changes and a dozen locations that sometimes feature scene changes during song-and-dance performances, “Hairspray” is not the typical Theatre Department production.
In fact, it may be the most complex production the department has ever brought to the stage, director Anne Brady said.
“This is probably the most complicated show, but I often choose big-cast shows,” said Brady, a professor in the Theatre Department. “I love tech. I love scenery. I love costumes. They all help tell the story.
“I wanted to do ‘Hairspray’ because it is a well-known show. I said to the design staff: ‘Tell me how we can do it because I know it is big. If we need to pare things down, tell me how to make it possible.’”
Brady’s version of the Tony-winning musical based on John Waters’ 1988 film will come to the Watters Theater at 8 p.m. Nov. 30, Dec. 1, Dec. 7-8, and at 2 p.m. Dec. 9. Tickets are $18, general admission; $16, faculty/staff/seniors; and $10, students; and can be purchased by calling the Anderson Center Box Office at 607-777-ARTS or by visiting http://anderson.binghamton.edu.
Set in Baltimore, “Hairspray” transports audience members to 1962 and introduces them to Tracy Turnblad (played by Michelle Goldrich). She is a plump and cheerful teen who fulfills her dream of dancing on her favorite TV dance program, “The Corny Collins Show.” Tracy then uses her celebrity status to help integrate the show and change the city.
For the design team, “Hairspray” has been a labor of love.
“The idea of doing a show of this scale at this University in this program has been a daunting task,” said Karen Kozlowski, associate professor of theatre and “Hairspray” scenic designer. “It’s taken a lot out of the department to produce something of this caliber.”
Jun Han, the show’s costume designer, had to not only discover the proper “retro feel” for the costumes, but the international student from China also had to learn about American culture in the 1960s.
“I did a lot of research by looking at older magazines and newspapers from that time,” said Han, a senior from China. “I also looked at historical catalogs,” such as Sears and Montgomery Ward.
Han and her adviser/supervisor, Andrea Lenci-Cerchiara, MA ’10, would learn about the era and then work on visually defining the show’s iconic characters.
“I was always asking Andrea: ‘Is this from the 1970s or 1960s?’” Han said with a laugh. “Sometimes I did the research and would show (a costume idea) and people would say: ‘That’s what my grandfather would wear!’ That helped me a lot.”
Perhaps most impressively, Han sketched each “Hairspray” character and would show the costume ideas to Brady. A final sketch of Tracy Turnblad by Han revealed an amazing replication of the character, complete with colorful clothes from the era.
“I wanted a classic Tracy with skirts and blouses,” Han said. “So I did a lot of research on what schoolgirls were wearing at the time.”
Han often did up to six sketches per character before a final one was approved.
“Jun would do a sketch based on the character and the ideas that we wanted,” Lenci-Cerchiara said. “Then the sketch was modified with real garments using period patterns. … We sat in meetings and discussed what worked, what didn’t work, what told the story and what didn’t tell the story. What fabrics work best? What colors work best?”
Han even sculpted and built a “fat suit/lady suit” that is worn by Matt Gaska, who plays Tracy’s mother Edna in the role made famous on Broadway by Harvey Fierstein.
“We had to have that done well ahead of time so that he could have it and get used to that feeling of being in a women’s suit – and being large,” Lenci-Cerchiara said.
For Kozlowski and student assistant Glenn Pepe, the scenic design was just as detailed and complex.
“I remember saying to Karen that the show is about movement and it feels like the set has to move,” Brady said.
Kozlowski incorporated large circular platforms that help to shift locations, especially as scenes change during musical numbers.
“It’s incredibly exciting and challenging to put into the choreography some of the movements of the platforms from one place to another,” Brady said.
Another challenge for Kozlowski was finding ways to have a dozen locations without using many bulk pieces.
“We have to pare down to just the essentials that dictate the scene we are in,” she said. “We’ll use a sign or a few pops of color to say we’re at ‘The Corny Collins Show’ or Motormouth’s Record Shop. We’ll have a few stylized pieces as opposed to a full house.”
It is important that the costume and scenic crews do not work independently from each other, Kozlowski said.
“I’ve met with Jun and Andrea as much as I’ve met with Anne to make sure that our historical patterns and colors work together and don’t conflict,” she said. “We don’t want TV-test patterns onstage! There is a lot of balance and give-and-take between the different areas.”
No design elements should stand out if the production teams have done their jobs correctly, Kozlowski added.
“They should blend seamlessly with the rest of the production to make a cohesive package,” she said. “If one element stands out that we haven’t chosen to stand out, then something did not mesh correctly in the overall development concept.
“That’s one of the beauties of theater: It’s a collaborative art form. It takes all of us to achieve one goal. Without one of us, it doesn’t work. We have to be working together to make sure it’s a functioning machine.”
Kozlowski has simple hopes for how audiences might react to “Hairspray.”
“We want them to say: ‘That was a great version of ‘Hairspray.’ It was a lot of fun and it felt like the early ’60s.’”
Brady, meanwhile, is anticipating a more active reaction from the audience.
“I want them to be dancing in the aisles!” she said.