An interracial cast of 45 young people from the city and suburbs brings the energetic score of Hairspray, the Broadway Musical to life for eight performances July 20 through Aug. 5 at Near West Theatre, 3606 Bridge Ave. Tickets can be purchased at www.nearwesttheatre.org or by calling the box office at 216-961-6391 between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. weekdays.
This beloved musical, based on earlier movie versions of the same story, revolves around “pleasantly plump” teenager Tracy Turnbald and is set in racially segregated Baltimore in 1962. Despite ambiguous integration laws, the local culture sticks to a separate-but-equal mentality, though in reality things are far from equal. When Tracy befriends a couple of African American dancers and lands a spot on a TV dance show, the town turns upside down.
“Sweet” and “bubblegum flavored” were the words enthusiastic New York critics used to describe Hairspray’s 2007 Broadway debut. Near West Director Bob Navis Jr. prefers “rebellious,” “critical” and “spicy.” He wants to infuse the show with the social critiques that mark the career of John Waters, creator of the original, non-musical film Hairspray (1988).
Navis notes that hairspray, the substance, holds things in an artificial, unnatural shape. Hairspray, the story, is about rebelling against that very kind of restriction. Its characters challenge assumptions about body image, segregation and other social conventions. Navis wants the young actors to tap into their own experiences of being labeled, marginalized or just frozen in place and energize their characters with the life force that fights all of that.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for children 12 and under. An upgrade to a $20 “Star Seat” supports the nonprofit theater’s work and offers a few extra perks.