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Thalian Hall main stage
310 Chestnut Street
8/3-7, 12-14, 18-21, 8 p.m.;
Sun., 3 p.m. matinee • $22-$25
(910) 632-2285


SASS AND STYLE: The cast of ‘Hairspray’ (l. to r. Amy Rowland, Jeff Phillips, Richard Bunting) brings larger-than-life entertainment to the stage of Thalian Hall. Courtesy photo.

“Hairspray”—also known as: AquaNet, a John Waters’ classic movie from 1988 and a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical.

Despite a flimsy movie remake in 2007 (featuring John Travolta in drag, nonetheless), “Hairspray” is a story that touts colorful dancing and hairstyles, amid bigger-than-life personalities, all under the guise of a civil rights message—something that continues its place in our current lexicon. Opera House Theatere Company will provide a perfect cherry atop their stellar summer season, showcasing exciting, uptempo dance numbers and songs only matched by bright, wacky costumes.

The show centers around Tracy Turnblad, a plump teenager with a knack for dancing to her favorite daytime television show, “The Corny Collins Show.” When she breaks the typical teen starlet mold and lands the lead of the show, Tracy uses her position to help push through the racially tense atmosphere of early 1960s Baltimore. While learning about the nearly nonexistent boundaries of love and the importance of friendship, she also learns about an over-arching struggle for equality and finds a way to make her mark on history.
Director Ray Kennedy says his decision to do the show centered around much more than just a catchy soundtrack and fast moves. The story’s themes are every bit as relevant today as they were 50 years ago. The show brings up several lessons that many contemporaries would do well to heed.

“In 1962, it was a real story about racial equality,” Kennedy explains. “Today, in 2011, the theme is just as alive and a part of our culture.”

Kennedy—who has spent many years as a primary source for entertainment on cruise ships all across the world—met and directed several of “Hairspray’s” original 2003 Broadway cast members. Among them was Corey Reynolds, who played Seaweed, the character who falls in love with Tracy’s best friend, Penny, despite the disapproval of a racially ignorant group-think.

This association normally would have made it hard to choose a character to reprise the role on the Thalian stage; luckily, Wilmington is not without its own whirlwind of talent. Taking the stage as the beloved Seaweed is none other than Tracy Bryd, who, along with his fellow “Moes,” stole most everyone’s heart in the Opera House production of “Five Guys Named Moe.”

Playing the lead is Amy Rowland, a rising sophomore at UNC-Pembroke who will not be taking on Tracy Turnblad for the first time. With her standout experience, she’ll be backed by an incredible ensemble. The dancers on “The Corny Collins Show,” known as the “Nicest Kids in Town,” are played by a group who have spent so much time learning the choreography together, they naturally feed off of one another’s energy.

One such actor, Dylan Fowler, has graced Wilmington’s theatre scene for more than half of his life. Fowler says he is constantly impressed by the talent in the show, which derives not only locally but from all across the state.

Bringing to the stage a heartwarming dose of laughter is, of course, Tracy’s mother, Edna Turnblad, who has, from the genesis of “Hairspray,” been brought to life by a man, decorated with a little extra padding. That padding will be proudly flaunted by an ecstatic Jeffrey Phillips. His inspiration to play the part came years ago, as a young man seeing the original film. He says it  completely opened his mind to the world—ultimately, even himself.

“Growing up with a fundamental Southern Baptist background, I had never seen anything like it,” the actor recalls. Phillips has put his soul into the role by animating Edna with the correct proportions of hilarity and genuine heart. He has come to fully understand the metamorphosis of the woman.

“Edna crawls onstage,” he says, “part mother, tigress and frightened caterpillar. [She] flutters to her curtain call a glorious, powerful butterfly.”

A lot of energy has gone into the labor of creating the womanly body of Edna. Phillips says it requires both “56EEE breasts” and a “rear end upon which tailgate parties could be staged.”After trying on nearly 12 variations of shoe sizes and types, Juli Harvey, costume designer, finally found a pair conducive to Phillips’ character. That’s the gem of Harvey’s professionalism: It’s all in the details. Her collaborations with world-famous evening-gown designer Sherri Hill will stand out, too. When all’s said and done, Harvey will have nailed the style and flair of the early 1960s. In fact, the sassy song-belting triplet known as “the Dynamites” has been outfitted in garb adding up to more than $5,000, when all is sang and done.

“Hairspray” opens August 3rd and runs through Sunday, returning to the stage Friday through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 3 p.m. the following two weekends. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased from the Thalian Box Office at 910-632-2285.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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