It’s safe to say that Brandon Caviness loves the musical Hairspray.
“I got the cast album when it came out and I played it until it wouldn’t play anymore in my CD player,” he says.
Safe to say, when Artistry (formerly Bloomington Civic Theatre) announced it would produce the show this fall, Caviness was right there ready to audition. And he knew what role he wanted: Edna Turnblad, the plus-sized mother at the center of the show.
“I wanted this role and I was going to fight tooth and nail for it,” Caviness says.
He did, and he is part of the massive cast that will open the show this evening in Bloomington.
Hairspray started its life as a John Waters' movie in the late 1980s. It is set in Waters’ hometown, Baltimore, in 1962, and centers on the efforts of a plus-size teenager, Tracy Turnblad, who just wants to dance on the daily Corny Collins Show. Her plans get bigger, however, when she sees the injustice of the program’s (and society’s) segregation.
The musical keeps the story, and adds plenty of high-spirited tunes that offer plenty of challenges for cast and crew alike.
Caviness is stepping into some pretty big wigs as Edna. The role was originated by Divine in the original John Waters’ movie, and then created by Harvey Fierstein for the original Broadway run. Eventually, John Travolta took on the role for the film version of the musical.
“It has been played by such definitive, mold-breaking people. Divine was the first drag queen to be in people’s homes,” Edna says. “Each of them did something so different. From the word go, we wanted to go in a different direction with her,” Caviness says. “We took the man in the dress quality out of the show. These characters are real people. They are suffering real things. We have all those factors in it. You are going to get a big dose of reality.”
For Gracie Anderson, getting in the show was about getting back into the auditioning game.
“I hadn’t auditioned for anything for a long time. I needed to do an audition to show that I could survive one, because they are very stressful. I got a call back, and then I was dead set on getting a part,” says Anderson, who plays teenage instigator Tracy Turnblad.
The issues in the play — especially integration and race relations in America — are still with us today.
“Talking with people like T. Mychael Rambo and all the exercises we have done have taught me more than I would have learned on the internet,” says 10-year-old Kennedy Lucas, who is making her professional stage debut in Hairspray as Little Inez.
Mind you, those social issues are only one topic at play here. Hairspray is a big and bold musical loaded with memorable tunes and plenty of chances for big production numbers and dance.
“This is the biggest show I have ever choreographed in my career. It has been challenging in that way, and to keep the story and these relationships in front of all the razzmatazz,” says director Michael Matthew Farrell.
Farrell has some personal insight into a part of the story. “I was on American Bandstand as a dancer for two years,” he says. “One of the biggest challenges is to have every number look different. There are only so many steps from the ‘60s.”
That side of the show has to share space with the characters and their development. “As we worked through the script, there were times that were really funny and really campy. There were also times when I felt like we didn’t need that. I took some of that out and tried to get to the honest reality of what was going on,” Farrell says.
That’s a lesson the actors have taken to heart.
“Something that Michael is pushing here is honesty. It is such a campy production, but there is so much heart and truth and grit to this show that it was really exciting,” Anderson says. “People coming to see the show get a lot more honesty and reality but it still a lot of fun.”
The eventual goal is that the happy, dance side and the more-serious side will combine for an entertaining and thought-provoking show.
“I would hope they would be inspired to open their minds to the Tracy Turnblads of the world. The show revolves around one individual who decides to make a change. She follows what is in her heart, and ultimately changes a lot of people’s lives. If there are one, two, three, or more people who say they are going to do the same thing, that would be my ultimate goal,” Farrell says.
IF YOU GO
Through September 13
1800 W. Old Shakopee Rd., Bloomington
For tickets and more information, call 952-563-8575 or visit online.