On Stage in Natomas: Hairspray

Photo courtesy Natomas Charter School

Photo courtesy Natomas Charter School

THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz

In 1962, John F. Kennedy was President, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, the first Target and Wal-Mart stores opened, the Cuban Missile Crisis began and ended, Bob Dylan released his first album and teens were watching dance shows like Dick Clark’s American Bandstand or Baltimore’s Buddy Deane Show.

Natomas Charter School’s production of the Tony Award-winning “Hairspray,” based on the 1988 John Waters’ film, opened at the Benvenuti Performing Arts Center on Thursday, March 19 and closes on Friday, March 27.

Several story lines wend their way through Hairspray, and just as many cultural issues are brought to light, including race relations, women’s rights, teen struggles, body image and class structure.

“Hairspray” takes place in 1962 Baltimore, Maryland, a location that, like much of America, was struggling to break free of segregation. The Corny Collins show is the fictionalized version of the Buddy Deane Show, a local dance TV program that Tracy Turnblad (played by Jocelyn Kilpatrick) and most teens watched, usually on black and white television sets.

Kilpatrick’s performance is top notch and likely not always easy to accomplish while wearing the fat suit and all that hair. Her voice is clear and powerful and she plays this role as though she were performing on Broadway.

With 65 singers and dancers, an orchestra of 21 keyboards, percussion, woodwind, brass and string instruments, and a host of students working behind the scenes, this production is, Gott said, “almost better than Broadway” because of its magnitude.

To most of the performers, 1962 must seem like a hundred years ago, but one wouldn’t know from watching them on stage. Whether they are acting, dancing, singing or performing in the orchestra, they are spot on with their performances, embracing the parts and having fun. Hairspray is, after all, a satire.

“This is an opportunity to teach history,” said Gott, pointing to references to green stamps, “Teen Angel” and other historical figures, items and songs that students might have never heard of as well as “racial tensions in the play.”

Scenes are also historic in nature. Tracy encounters a flasher (Michael Aoun) and a drunk bum (Michael David Smith) near her home. Gwynn Oak Park is the actual location of an amusement park that refused to allow African Americans (Negro or Black was the term then) entrance in 1962. Patterson Park High School also existed.

When asked what she’d do if she became president, Tracy Turnblad (Kilpatrick) says “I’d make every day Negro Day.” When she suggests crashing “White Day” in an effort to integrate the Corny Collins show, she’s asked which day exactly she will choose. She chooses “Mother-Daughter Day.”

It’s as important to watch the reactions of the other characters as Tracy attempts to put her plan in motion. Some who originally supported her won’t risk their careers, school status or jail. The reaction of parents toward their children is also something to watch, especially the interaction between Penny Pingleton, played by Avery Mann, and her mother and the one between Velma Von Tussle (Marci Maxey) and her daughter Amber (Arianna Ruvalcaba).

When the Von Tussles, apparently one of the several single parent households encountered, meet the Turnblads anything can – and almost does – happen.

One of the most interesting and fun pairings is that of Tracy’s parents. Edna Turnblad, played by Sabrina Calderon, is larger than life. Calderon does a wonderful job with this brash, outspoken, yet timid, wife and mother. Wilbur Turnblad’s quirky and charismatic character comes to life by Devin DeGeyter, who brings a wonderful spark and energy.

The Turnblad home is located in the left corner, just off the stage, where Edna’s often seen doing the laundry. The Pingleton home is located in the opposite corner, so the two homes flank the stage and the orchestra pit.

The orchestra is conducted by Natomas Charter High senior Nicole Lee as part of her senior project. She leads 20 student musicians and one professional guest pianist, Owen Myers.

While most of the activity takes place on the main stage, a cast this large in the intimate setting of the Benvenuti Performing Arts Center needs space to roam, so they often dance and sing in the side aisles.

Another standout performer is Sloane Crawford who portrays Motormouth Maybelle, mother to Seaweed (Willie Huggins IV) and Little Inez (Kaitlin Ridad). Even viewers of The Voice might be surprised by the range and power Crawford has when she sings.

From the costuming and set design, both historically accurate and fun, to the music, audience engagement and the utilization of the theater, “Hairspray” is that musical everyone should see.

The issues raised in “Hairspray” may have taken place in 1962, but they still abound in today’s society, and this musical is, as Gott said, “for all ages.” Once again, Natomas Charter School proves that its students and faculty are not afraid to tackle difficult topics.

“Hairspray” is directed by Karen Pollard, produced by the Natomas Arts & Education Foundation and choreographed by Devin LePage. Kelly Cullity is the music and vocal director and Rick Gott the associate director.

Tickets are available for pre-purchase online at a reduced rate ($10 – $12) or at the box office on the day of the show ($15 – $17). Shows are scheduled for 7 p.m. on 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on today, March 21 and 7 p.m. on March 26 and 27.

The Benvenuti Performing Arts Center is located at 4600 Blackrock Drive, Sacramento, CA 95835. For more information, see www.benarts.org

Photo courtesy Natomas Charter School

Photo courtesy Natomas Charter School

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