Iconic films do not always make a smooth transition to the stage, but 2002’s Hairspray proved to be a raging success, earning 13 Tony Award nominations and winning eight, including best musical. This weekend, local audiences can get a taste of the high-octane period comedy at Woodford Theatre.
Based on the 1988 John Waters film, the musical by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, follows the journey of plus-size teenager Tracy Turnblad after she becomes an overnight celebrity by scoring a coveted spot as a dancer on The Corny Collins Show. A host of colorful characters and retro dance numbers are the hallmark of the show, as is its message of equality and inclusion.
Inclusion is vital to the success of a community theater, something executive and artistic director Trish Clark understands when selecting a season.
“Choosing a season is a very delicate balance and more complicated than people might think,” Clark says. “We somewhat have a formula at Woodford Theatre, mainly because it is a community theater and with that comes the obligation of giving a chance to all age groups of actors in order to serve our artistic community, combined with the business of serving our mission and our patrons.”
One group of artists and audiences that Clark, a retired public school teacher, wanted to tap into this year, was young people.
“We chose Hairspray as our finale to this season to serve our younger artists and audiences since there wasn’t much room in the prior shows of the season,” says Clark. “It was also the best time of year to attract our young artists from high schools and colleges as we would not interfere with their school programs.”
Of the 32 cast members in Hairspray, all but five of them are high school or college students from several schools throughout the region. Performers range from age 13 to 57.
Because of the demands of this show, these artists have worked more hours than average and have enjoyed each other tremendously. It is always rewarding to see high school students grow by leaps and bounds when they have the bar set for them by the rest of the cast.
Trish Clark, executive and artistic director, The Woodford Theatre
“It’s got a great community theater feel to it because it does have all the age groups in it,” Clark says.
While the young cast members have been rehearsing for their moment in the spotlight, designers have been busy behind the scenes, figuring out how to bring the show’s larger-than-life scale to the Woodford stage.
Costume Designer Kathy Sparrow, who took a five-year break from a 30-year career as a costume designer, says designing for shows set in specific time period can present some very specific challenges.
“My favorite thing to do is glitz and glam,” Sparrow says, “but when you go into period things, it’s a challenge to try and find things that will work with this many different people.”
Sparrow was also charged with turning Robert Parks Johnson, one of the adults in the show, into Tracy’s plus-sized mother, Edna, a role usually played by men in drag. The hallmark of his costume? Large, prosthetic breasts.
“He is having to deal with a lot of elements because they weigh six pounds each,” says Sparrow.
Lighting Designer Danny Bowling faced an even bigger challenge: the lack of time.
Bowling, who is a designer at the Singletary Center, stepped in at the last minute to replace longtime designer Todd Pickett, who is receiving a kidney transplant after a long wait to find a donor match.
Bowling was glad to help, though it meant a lot of long hours programming more than 300 light cues that have to match precisely to the music.
“Working at Singletary, I’m used to last-minute work,” Bowling says. “Everything that we do here is a day-of kind of thing, so working on a crunch isn’t anything new.”
Bowling says even though he’s had to rush, he particularly enjoys designing for musicals.
“It’s more enjoyable to do musicals just because there’s more to do. There’s more flash,” says Bowling, who has a background in music that he says helps him as a lighting designer.
“It really helps for a lighting designer to be a musician when it comes to musicals, just so you have a sense of timing with the music” says Bowling, who minored in music at UK and has been playing cello since he was eight years old.
“Because of the demands of this show, these artists have worked more hours than average and have enjoyed each other tremendously,” Clark says. “It is always rewarding to see high school students grow by leaps and bounds when they have the bar set for them by the rest of the cast.”
“The production team has also worked tirelessly to squeeze a very big show onto a small stage,” says Clark. “This is truly a community effort.”
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.
If You Go
What: The Woodford Theatre’s production of the hit Broadway musical
When: 8 p.m. May 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21; 2 p.m. May 8, 15, 22.
Where: Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center, 275 Beasley Dr., Versailles
Tickets: $20 adults, $13 students