- Published on Wednesday, 01 October 2014 11:16
- Written by Elizabeth Shelton
When the musical, Hairspray shimmies onto the Bedell stage on October 8, the production opens the eighth season of Southeast Missouri State University’s Theater and Dance Department in the River Campus.
Hairspray is set in Baltimore in 1962, and the colorful set, costuming and high-energy choreography play up the big hair and quirky dances of the decade. Yet the audience is reminded of the serious topic of racial integration that shook the sixties through clever characters, hilarious dialogue and memorable songs that, undoubtedly, will be hummed on the drive home.
Tracy Turnblad is a chubby high school girl enthralled with the Corny Collins TV show-- a mix of the “Mickey Mouse Club” and “American Bandstand.” The show is produced by a bigoted beauty queen has-been who personifies much of the racism occurring at the time. Tracy and her mother, Edna, battle their weight as they fight the judgment heaped on them for not ‘fitting in.’ They form a friendship with fellow ‘outcasts,’ who appear every Friday on “Negro Day.” As things frequently go in musical theater, dancing brings everyone together, and Tracy manages to integrate the Corny Collins Show while winning the hearts of America.
Because Hairspray is so wildly popular with audiences as well as critics (winning eight Tony Awards in one year), River Campus regulars may recall the touring production that came through in 2009. Kenn Stilson, theater professor and department chair who is directing this production, explains: “Shows are selected based on what’s good for the students and what the community wants. Hairspray is the perfect fit for our program, as it meets both these requirements. It’s a wonderful story—lots of fun but with some real depth in the overall meaning. The show is about tolerance. Centering on the civil rights movement; it’s also about tolerance of anybody who is different from the norm.It’s one of my all-time favorites. The students are absolutely crazy about this show, and I know our audiences will flip when they see it.”
The cast of Hairspray is the first to rehearse in Southeast’s newest darling, the River Campus Center. The 90,000 square foot building combines living and learning in an impressive $30 million facility comprised of art studios and spacious rehearsal rooms for dance, theater, instrumental and vocal ensembles.
As in the original River Campus Convocation Center completed in 2007, the first floor features a directing/acting studio referred to as a black box because its square, dark simplicity offers broad staging flexibility. The dance studio has a sprung floor, which is a softer floor that absorbs shock and reduces injury. A spacious choral rehearsal room, practice rooms and the 120-seat dining hall overlooking the Mississippi River complete the first floor. An art education classroom is located on the mezzanine, and faculty offices for professors of the arts are on the second floor.
Stilson delighted in explaining the need for what some may perceive as duplicate space: “We have been extremely fortunate to be working in these world-class facilities since the River Campus opened in 2007. However, before we even moved over to the new campus, we were experiencing meteoric growth. We started with 17 majors in 2001, and we now have 169 majors in the Department of Theatre & Dance. That’s more than 800% growth. It’s phenomenal! We had outgrown the original River Campus facility before we ever moved in, which is a great problem to have. So, this new building fulfills a tremendous need for additional space.”
Some of the students in the cast have been in previous productions and rehearsed in the original facility. Yet none have had the convenience of leaving rehearsal and going ‘home’ via a quick trip up the elevator to dorm rooms that are more like upscale apartments. A beautiful kitchenette equipped with a sink, microwave and full-size stainless steel refrigerator is shared by four students living in two-bedroom suites. The suitemates share a bathroom and a common lounge area with 32-inch televisions. More practice rooms, laundry facilities, a pool table, and a fitness center also are available with card key access.
To further show off the beautiful new building to theatergoers, the opening of Hairspray also debuts one-stop ‘dinner theater’ to be offered before four additional productions. Chartwells, the campus food service provider, is offering ‘Art Cuisine’ in the new dining hall beginning at 5:30, and this isn’t typical campus cafeteria food. For $21 per person, the first act will be a gourmet salad, followed by the patron’s choice from three entrées. The selections for Hairspray are: Atlantic Salmon or Chicken Picata served with sizzling asparagus and Frisco rice or Vegetarian Lasagna with asparagus. Key Lime Pie is the finale before patrons stroll down the sidewalk to the Bedell Auditorium for the performance. Tea and coffee are included, and alcoholic beverages also are available for purchase.
The remaining productions offering Art Cuisine are professional touring productions of “Anything Goes” on November 1, “The King and I” on February 28, and “Memphis” on March 30. Art Cuisine will also be available when the Southeast Symphony presents the “Schubert Mass in G Major” on December 2, 2014. Dinner reservations can be made by calling 573-651-2511. Tickets to Hairspray are selling quickly according to Stilson and must be purchased separately from Art Cuisine by visiting or calling the River Campus box office at 573-651-2265 or online: http://rivercampusevents.com/tickets/.