A cast of 32, 110 costumes, a six piece band, singing, dancing, comedy – the ingredients are all there for a high energy, vibrant and colourful performance when Hairspray opens at the Prospect Playhouse on Friday, March 9.
The musical comedy centres on teenager Tracy Turnblad, a big girl, with a big heart and big aspirations – the greatest of which is to dance.
“Tracy wants to get on this dance show, but she’s overweight. That opens her yes to discrimination in general,” explains Neil Rooney, who is directing the Cayman Drama Society production. The setting for the play, he says, is Baltimore 1962 – a rather less enlightened era.
“When she sees what it feels like to be discriminated against, she starts to lobby for the black kids who also want to get on the show,” he says. “Ultimately she manages to get the show integrated. It’s a good story, it’s a morality tale really, but it’s fun.”
The cast is a mix of adults and teens, with Tracy’s mother always played by a man. Finding the right people to play the teenage characters was a big challenge, Neil says, not only because young people ages 14 and older are so tied up with their schoolwork, but also because the timing of this production clashes with many of the private school productions, which meant not many young thespians were available.
Moreover, it’s a demanding play.
“When you see the professional shows on Broadway, or in London, most of the teenagers are in their late teens or early 20s because it’s a very challenging show,” she says. “It’s very difficult musically – there are three, four, five part harmonies, but also all the kids have to be able to dance, and dance hard, all while maintaining character.”
“We were hoping that a genuinely supertalented, overweight teen girl was going to audition and we would be able to cast her [as Tracy]. But that didn’t happen,” he says.
When it came down to it, 13-year-old Isabella Rooney, (Neil’s daughter) was the only one who could both sing and dance well enough to play the part. She is however, going to have to dress up in a padded costume to give her character the bulk she needs.
“We would like to have found the genuine article for the very reason the show was created, which was to say that it shouldn’t be about the package, but it should be about the talent and the entertainment value, all the things that a performance brings to the stage … but Isabella is going to blow audiences away,” her proud father predicts.
Adam Roberts, Crown prosecutor by day, will be playing Tracy’s mother, Edna, in the evenings. His son, Joe, plays Link Larkin, the teen heart throb. Both veterans of CDS and newcomers to the stage are involved. The entire cast has been rehearsing since November, with musical direction from Catherine Winch and choreography by Anita Gough of Centre Pointe Dance.
“Rehearsing four or five times a week can be exhausting but the cast and the band are sounding fantastic. There are a few numbers that are definitely going to bring the house down: ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ which features Motormouth and the Gospel Choir is such an emotional song and Leslie Ann who plays her is one of the most talented singers I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” Catherine says.
One of the greatest aspects of producing the show, Neil says, is that it is such a family affair: parents and their children are all working together to make Hairspray an exceptional production. There are at least six families involved.
It’s a production that is not only by families, it is also for families, Neil says. In the same vein that many modern day cartoons appeal to adults and children on different levels, so it is with the humour in Hairspray. The youngsters may be rolling in the aisles as a result of the slapstick elements, while the parts that tickle their parents will go right over their children’s heads.
Hairspray runs from 9 March to 1 April. To reserve tickets contact [email protected] or call 949-5054.