Whitehall-Coplay Press

Tuesday, November 20, 2018
‘Hairspray’ ‘You can’t stop the beat’ at Munopco Music Theatre ‘Hairspray’ ‘You can’t stop the beat’ at Munopco Music Theatre
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO by vincent rostkowskiLexi Rastelli (Amber Von Tussle) leads the “Corny Collins Council” TV show dancers, from left, Josiah Behrens, Abby Garza, Jessica Mulligan, Elaina Bastow and Ricardo Negron in Munopco’s “Hairspray,” June 28-30, July 1, Scottish Rite Cathedral, Allentown. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO by vincent rostkowskiLexi Rastelli (Amber Von Tussle) leads the “Corny Collins Council” TV show dancers, from left, Josiah Behrens, Abby Garza, Jessica Mulligan, Elaina Bastow and Ricardo Negron in Munopco’s “Hairspray,” June 28-30, July 1, Scottish Rite Cathedral, Allentown.

‘Hairspray’ ‘You can’t stop the beat’ at Munopco Music Theatre

Thursday, June 28, 2018 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Focus

More than 60 people will recreate the 1960s era in Munopco Music Theatre’s big, bold and bright production of the hit Broadway musical “Hairspray.”

The musical about a plump teen who yearns to be on “The “Corny Collins Show,” an American Bandstand-style television show in Baltimore, features catchy 60s’-flavored songs and lots of high-energy dancing.

One of the cast members even joked she was losing weight from all the dancing, says Munopco “Hairspray” director Susan McDermott.

The closing show of Munopco’s 2017-18 season runs June 28-30 and July 1, Scottish Rite Cathedral, Allentown.

There’s no doubt the show is jam-packed with dancing.

“Almost every scene is a production number,” McDermott says. “There is dancing in every scene and that’s what makes the show so fun. Everybody’s moving. Everybody’s shaking.”

She says the entire cast, which ranges in age from 10 to 70-plus, “has to dance a least a little” in the show. McDermott says she is lucky to have a great choreographer in Suzanne Doran Balstar.

“We have worked together for years,” McDermott says.

“Hairspray,” nominated for 13 Tony Awards and receiving eight including Best Musical in 2003, is based on writer-director John Waters’ 1988 film that was shot in part in South Whitehall Township’s Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom.

The musical, with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, and book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, features 1960s-style dance music and “downtown” rhythm and blues.

“Hairspray” explores themes of racial prejudice, civil rights and freedom of expression as Tracy Turnblad ultimately works to integrate the television show.

It’s 1962 in Baltimore, and the lovable plus-size teen, Tracy Turnblad, has only one desire: to dance on the popular “Corny Collins Show.” When her dream comes true, Tracy is transformed from social outcast to sudden star.

She must use her newfound power to dethrone the reigning Teen Queen, win the affections of heartthrob, Link Larkin, and integrate a TV show, all without denting her “do.”

McDermott says Balstar did an outstanding job creating choreography that distinguishes the difference between the dancing by the “fresh-faced kids next door” on the “Corny Collins Council” TV show and the “more emotional” dancing of the downtown youths who hang out in a rhythm and blues record shop.

She explains that at the time many songs by black artists were recorded by white artists, changing the feel of the music. The dancing and music in the show “is definitely a reflection of the time.”

McDermott says Balstar had Tyree Scott, who plays Seaweed, watch James Brown music videos to get a feel for the “downtown” style.

When McDermott, who was in the cast of Munopco’s “White Christmas” in December, found out the theater group was looking for directors, she put in her name for “Hairspray.”

“Everyone likes this musical,” she says. “It has a great message about being yourself, being proud of who you are and making a difference.”

She is especially excited about her primarily young, energetic cast since she comes from a background of teaching high school.

“I was fortunate to be able to cast it well and that’s the hardest part,” she says. “We are so lucky to have a tremendous cast and not one weak link.”

The large cast features Alexandria Austin as Tracy Turnblad, Richard Warmkessel as Edna Turnblad, Robert Adams as Wilbur Turnblad, Liam Mulligan as Link Larkin, Lexi Rastelli as Amber Von Tussle, Colin Walsh as Corny Collins, Beth Linzer as Velma Von Tussle, Shannon Cornish as Penny Pingleton, Tyree Scott as Seaweed, Nasheera Brown as Lil Inez, and Florence Taylor as Motormouth Maybelle. Playing the Dynamites are Ali Santos, Deborah D’Haiti, and Krystle Tate.

“People are enthusiastic about being here and bring so much to it,” McDermott says.

She says when she was casting the Dynamites, which is a Supremes-inspired trio, she inadvertently cast as two of the trio performers who sing together in a group outside of the show.

Tate and Santos, who are members of Two Girls and a Sax, auditioned separately. Santos helped with choreography for the Dynamites.

The last show that Mulligan, who McDermott cast as Tracy’s love interest and Council heartthrob Link Larkin, did was at Catasauqua High School, where he played drum in the orchestra.

“We have him climbing out of pit to be Link,” jokes McDermott.

Mulligan shares the stage for the first time with his sister Jessica Mulligan, who plays one of the Council dancers.

McDermott tapped Warmkessl, a former student of hers at Allentown Central Catholic, for the showy, cross-dressing role of Tracy’s mother Edna Turnblad.

“He’s got such a warmth and nurturing way about him, I forget at times he’s not a mother in real life,” she says. “He’s got a laugh that’s infectious and makes you smile from ear to ear.”

McDermott’s also thrilled to be working with Julius Sarkozy, “Hairspray” music director, a talented 20-year-old who plays piano on Broadway on the weekends.

The show will be visually exciting with the stage awash in 1960s Day-Glo colors such as lime green, electric yellow, hot pink, teal and lilac.

“The colors really wake you up,” McDermott says. “Even in inner-city Baltimore scenes, things are bright.”

Cast members have been hitting local thrift stores to find 1960s-era costumes and McDermott says they’ve found some “really cool things.”

“Hairspray,” 8 p.m. June 28-30 and 2 p.m. July 1. Scottish Rite Cathedral, 1533 Hamilton St. Allentown. Tickets: munopco.org/tickets, 610-437-2441