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So You Wanna Dance? "Hairspray" Musical Headed for New Brunswick This Weekend

NEWS | FEATURES | PREVIEWS | EVENTS

By Bruce Chadwick


originally published: 04/27/2022

So You Wanna Dance? "Hairspray" Musical Headed for New Brunswick This Weekend

Hairspray has succeeded as a musical and film because it manages to convey a delightful story about teenage love, weigh discrimination and generational conflict with terrific music and, most importantly, a pretty gripping story about racial discrimination in Baltimore in 1962.

The authors of the play, that will be presented this coming weekend at the State Theatre, in New Brunswick, probably picked the year 1962 for its setting because it was after the landmark 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education Supreme Court decision integrating America’s schools and before the Civil Rights protests and riots on the late 1960s. 1962 was a year that simmered racially not just in Baltimore but across the United States. Something was building, a racial volcano in the making, and people in that year feared the worst – and got it several years later,

 The musical chronicles all of that in Baltimore. The race tale plays out well on stage and the race aspect hits its mark. No doubt about it. The musical is not about a depressed  America, but an optimistic one. That’s what people like about it.

In the play (Friday at 8:00pm, Saturday at 2:00pm & 8:00pm and Sunday at 2:00pm), cheerful and overweight, but very lovable Tracey Turnblad and her friend Penny Pingleton watch the local TV Variety show The Corny Collins Show religiously and dream of getting on it as dancers. They also want to fully integrate the show, which bridges the race barrier by offering a one day a month “Negro Day” for African American dancers. All of this is orchestrated by Velma on Tussle, a racist show manager who not only bars blacks from most performances, but hopelessly pushes her daughter Amber on the show. 

Tracy does get on the show and challenges Amber in the race for the annual “Miss Teenage Hairspray” crown. Amid all this there is racial turmoil on the show, street protests and the police.

So You Wanna Dance? "Hairspray" Musical Headed for New Brunswick This Weekend



 
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Can Tracey win the crown? Can the TV show be integrated? Can all of Baltimore, all of America, be somehow turned around?

That’s why I liked Hairspray,  the movie, back in 2007, when it debuted as a film (I did not see the play until years later). The successful musical and its songs was a usable cover for the racial story. Together,  the stories work and work well.

The play explores numerous themes in 1962 – discrimination against overweight Tracey and her hard work to fit into her high school society in Baltimore and the neighborhood where she lives, the generational battle between Tracey and her parents (especially mom, usually played by a man and John Travolta in the movie), race, the emergence of rock music and how it replaced the old music, and , of course, the teenager in love story.

“All of these themes are just as prevalent in America today as they were in 1962. Little has changed. What Hairspray does is drive home the point that In America we have, we do, work hard to overcome these things l I think that’s why audiences have always liked the play and the movie. On this tour, which started in October, we often sell out the theater, which is unusual for a touring show,” said veteran actor Christopher Swan, who plays Tracy’s dad, Wilbur Turnblad, in the play in New Brunswick.

He and his fellow actors have had a bumpy ride in this Hairspray tour.

“At one point, when we were in Miami, half the cast came down with COVID. Me, too. I quarantined for eight days. It was tough. Thank God we’re all better now,” Swan said.

So You Wanna Dance? "Hairspray" Musical Headed for New Brunswick This Weekend

The story is based on real life with exaggerations. There was a TV dance show in Baltimore in 1962 and its had a  DJ much like Corny Collins in the musical. There was racial turmoil in that year, although low key at the time.

Make no mistake – this is a dance play. People dance left, they dance right, they dance upside down! Song follows song, all led by Good Morning Baltimore, the opener and, in my view, one of the great movie themes of all time. 

“Here are a whole bunch of young people who just want to dance, get on TV dance show. That’s it. Yet, all this overweight stuff and race stuff gets tossed in to make something simple very complicated. To me, dance away!” said Swan.

So You Wanna Dance? "Hairspray" Musical Headed for New Brunswick This Weekend

The strength of the show is Tracey and her need to fit in and integrate the TV show, but it is also in the carefully drawn co-stars of the play. There is mom (the man), a laid back Dad, boyfriend Link and the evil Mrs. Von Tussle and her mischievous daughter Amber. 

Swan (Tracy’s dad), has been on tour for nine months. The show’s tour ends around the Fourth of July and he’ll probably join another tour.

“I’ve been on the road, oh, nine years or so with different plays. I like it. I enjoy traveling. I like the plays. I like watching people enjoy our work,” he said.



 
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The play’s book writers, Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan made each character distinct and merged them together to tell their story. The music by Marc Shaiman is  wonderful (with lyrics by Scott Wittman), 

It will be interesting o see how the play is received in New Brunswick, a growing urban area. The last two years have seen a powerful social movement to right a lot of racial wrong in America – as important as the problems in the play. How will New Jersey theatergoers today see the play and its strong racial side in 1962 as opposed to racial strife today?

So You Wanna Dance? "Hairspray" Musical Headed for New Brunswick This Weekend

State Theatre New Jersey is located at 15 Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  Performances of Hairspray take place on Friday, April 29 at 8:00pm; Saturday, April 30 at 2:00pm & 8:00pm; and Sunday, May 1 at 2:00pm. Click here for ticket information.

PHOTOS BY JEREMY DANIEL



Bruce Chadwick worked for 23 years as an entertainment writer/critic for the New York Daily News. Later, he served as the arts and entertainment critic for the History News Network, a national online weekly magazine. Chadwick holds a Ph. D in History and Cultural Studies from Rutgers University. He has written 31 books on U.S. history and has lectured on history and culture around the world. He is a history professor at New Jersey City University.





EVENT CALENDAR

ART | COMEDY | DANCE | MUSIC | THEATRE | COMMUNITY

The Wolves

Wednesday, September 28, 2022 @ 7:30pm
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91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540
category: theatre


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The Caretaker

Wednesday, September 28, 2022 @ 7:30pm
Shakespeare Theatre Of NJ - F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre
36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940
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The Wolves

Thursday, September 29, 2022 @ 7:30pm
McCarter Theatre Center (Berlind Theater)
91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540
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Brooklyn Rider

Thursday, September 29, 2022 @ 7:00pm
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1 College Drive, Toms River, NJ 08754
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The Caretaker

Thursday, September 29, 2022 @ 8:00pm
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36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940
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Vivid Stage presents "Soft Animals"

Thursday, September 29, 2022 @ 8:00pm
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Sweet Baby James

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 8:00pm
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The Wolves

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 8:00pm
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91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540
category: theatre


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Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 8:00pm
Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC)
100 South Street, Morristown, NJ 07960
category: music


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Joey Skaggs: Metamorphosis, Cockroach Miracle Cure, Urania Leilus, The House, Panta Rei, The Hauntings of New Hope - Shorts Program - Online for 24 Hours and In Person at 7PM!

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 7:00pm
NJ Film Festival
71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901
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Adelphi Orchestra - Love Letter to Humanity

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 7:30pm
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10-10 20th Street, Fair Lawn, NJ 07410
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The Caretaker

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 8:00pm
Shakespeare Theatre Of NJ - F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre
36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940
category: theatre


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