Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Diversity in Hairspray

Hairspray the musical is currently running at Midvale Main Street Theatre.

(All the photos in this post were taken by Will Dugdale of Mountain High Images. Show the guy some love by liking his Facebook page.)

I was the musical director for the production, in charge of making sure the cast knows the songs and that everything sounds as full and as balanced as possible. At this point, my job is done. I taught what I could, begged and pleaded for fuller sound in different places--and now I just let the actors and the sound tech do their magic every night.

But this post isn't about sound. I just wanted to make my bias clear.

I want to talk about race and diversity in Midvale Main Street Theatre's production of Hairspray.

I want to talk about it because the reviewers--and I'm sure some of the audience members--are talking about it.

Our production is pretty damned pasty. It's just the way it is. The play is about a little fat girl who wants to dance on an afternoon sock hop show in Baltimore. They won't let her because she's not skinny. Another little girl wants to dance on the show too--but she can't because she's black.

The show is about breaking down our definitions of who qualifies as "The Nicest Kids In Town".

So why would a white community like Midvale, Utah choose to do a show about racial diversity?

Because this community needs discussions about diversity.

The writers and head honchos who created Hairspray on Broadway envisioned this lack of racial diversity in communities that might want to produce the show and they wrote a letter especially to be published in the program. In the letter, they acknowledge that "not every community around the globe has the perfectly balanced make-up of ethnicity to cast Hairspray as written," and they ask the audience to "use the timeless theatrical concept of 'suspension of disbelief' and allow yourself to witness the story and not the racial background (or gender) of the actors."

Frankly, I think it would be absolutely delightful to see an all black production of Hairspray someday!

But back to my earlier statement. This community needs stories about diversity. And the show didn't lack for diversity--but our diversity reflected the diverse make up particular to our community.

In the cast, we have a range of ages. We have cast members from less affluent backgrounds, and some cast members are more privileged. Some of our cast members are Atheists, and some are active Latter-Day Saints. Some of the cast members are gay. Some are straight. Some are too young to care either way. Some cast members are skinny, some are roundish. Some are super conservative, some are super liberal. Some cast members are white. Some cast members are African American. Some are Latino. One girl is Japanese-American.  A lot of the cast identifies with several different groups--and in this cast, they know they can be whatever they want to be and think whatever they want!

A couple of reviewers have mentioned that everyone in the cast is white. And I imagine, under lights, everyone looks pretty pale. But this story about diversity is told by a cast of actors from varying backgrounds. And I love it. It might not be the 60s. We might not be fighting against segregation--but we are fighting against fear of the unknown. We still have families who won't allow their little Mormon children to play with kids who aren't Mormon. We have conservatives who misjudge all gay people. We have rich kids who have no idea that they might get along just as well with a kid with less money. And of course, a lot of vice versas going on.

Whatever your background, there's nothing like hearing a cast sing out in perfect harmony. Hopefully, the audience members will leave the show eager to get to know their different neighbors, and not just the neighbors who think and look the way they do.

I'm really proud to be a part of this production. It is an absolute joy! If you haven't seen the show yet, don't bother trying for Saturday night--it's probably already sold out. But get your tickets for Thursday or Friday at 7pm or the Saturday matinee at 2pm. Visit www.midvaletheatre.com for tickets and more information.

Midvale Main Street Theatre
7711 South Main St (700 West)
Midvale, Utah

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