By Chloe Cox and Tyra Hammond
For us, a mother-daughter team who love theater, this was our first time attending a performance by the Midvale Arts Council. We had been told that they always put on a great show and, as Hairspray is always full of fun, we were excited to see what the cast had in store for us last night. They truly didn’t disappoint!
Hairspray is a musical comedy with a lot of lift and a ton of heart. Tracy Turnblad is a girl growing up in 1962 Baltimore whose greatest dream is to be one of the dancers on “The Corny Collins Show,” a popular local TV studio’s American Bandstand-type teen dance program. Without being a classic Barbie doll shape, she bravely enters the audition and tolerates the catty cruelty of the producer, Velma von Tussle and her daughter and reigning queen of the show, Amber. Tracy wins a featured spot and becomes an overnight sensation winning the affections of Link, Amber’s boyfriend, and setting new style trends in fashion and hair. With her giant heart and the loving support of her eccentric parents and best friend Penny, Tracy’s right to dance is not the only fight she feels passionate about. With some new friends and a newfound popularity, Tracy breaks the barriers of segregation and models a greater acceptance of diversity, paving the way for inclusion of all shapes backgrounds, colors–and hairstyles.
We arrived a little early Friday evening and easily found the Midvale Performing Arts Center with easy access to parking in the back. The parking isn’t abundant but certainly adequate for this quaint little theater with its retro exterior and remodeled interior. There are a few small windows covered with dark curtains in the theater that let in little streams of light when the house lights went down. Once the performance started and the stage lights came on, we no longer noticed them and we’re confident that’s a situation they will soon resolve. Its roomy, comfortable theater seating and relaxed atmosphere gave it a pleasant hometown feel. Without a bad seat in the house, we sat in the back row and still felt that up close and personal connection with the cast.
The cast and crew brought this timeless story to life with their wonderful talent. Under the direction of Kristie Post Wallace, with Janzell Tutor as music director and April Kimball Thomas as choreographer, as well as the designers, this production of Hairspray took the audience to the world of Baltimore in the Swingin’ Sixties with its upbeat choreography, one of our favorites being I Can Hear the Bells. The fantastic vintage costume designs were also taken on by Casey Matern, who played Tracy. The supporting cast and ensemble strongly complemented the principal actors and were each talented in their own right with their voices and dance stylings.
Casey Matern, who played the ever eager Tracy Turnblad, lit up the stage brighter than any lighting designer could dream of. From the first note she sang, it was very evident we were in for a treat with her. Her mic appeared to be off throughout “Good Morning Baltimore” but, it was only apparent at the times that her back was turned as her strong voice easily compensated for the lack of mic assistance. She embodied Tracy’s hope and ambition while still maintaining her youthful naivety. Matern’s rendition of Tracy was spot on from her radical hair-do and joyful facial expressions to her Oxford-clad pigeon-toed stance.
Tracy’s mom, Edna (whose role is typically played by a male who can own the stage as a big, beautiful woman) was performed by the remarkably exuberant Glen Reber. His performance was full of comedy and joy as he created the loveable mama bear character that will do anything for her daughter and husband. His smile was broad and his face shone brightly and, well, he was just beautiful as was his classic Edna voice. Wilbur Turnblad, Tracy’s father and Edna’s husband, was played by Curtis Turley. He and Reber had a sweet and entertaining chemistry. One of the many highlights of the show was Edna and Wilbur’s duet, “You’re Timeless to Me,” as Reber was a much larger Edna to Turley’s Wilbur and the choreography was very theatrical, entertaining, and hilarious.
Corny Collins, the host of “The Corny Collins Show”, was played by Skyler Bluemel, and he was a jazzy, snazzy character we enjoyed a great deal. Motormouth Maybelle, the host for The Corny Collins Show on the once a month “Negro Day” were both good counters to play against Wilcox’s (evil) Velma. Velma’s daughter Amber, heiress for the Miss Baltimore crown, was portrayed by Sydney Peebler wonderfully. Peebler’s depiction of Amber’s entitlement was in full force every moment she was gracing the stage, with dramatic facials and comical sidelong glances at her boyishly handsome costar, Link Larkin. Link was played by Brandan Ngo, who had a lovely voice to go with his cute looks and smooth moves. Ngo portrayed Link’s vanity while remaining a likable choice for Tracy to fall in love with.
The scene changes were performed quickly and seamlessly, owing to Samuel Burt’s set design The audience was able to experience the world of Baltimore without bogging down the stage with excess material.
Before curtain, we were able to talk with producer Stephanie Johnson, who told us that pneumonia was plaguing a couple of the cast members, namely, Oliva Netzler (Seaweed) and Emily Wilcox (Velma von Tussle.) Despite this fact, Netzler didn’t seem at all out of breath as he busted out some wicked dance moves to impress Penny, played by the adorable and beautifully-voiced Alanna Cottam. Despite Wilcox’s illness, she executed Velma’s nasty yet classy character very well.
It was a great pleasure to have a few minutes to chat with CaseyMatern (Tracy) after the show. With just a few short answers, we got a fantastic feel for Ms. Matern’s love of Tracy and for the production and cast that has held so much of her time and heart the past few months:
FRRU: What was the hardest part about becoming Tracy?
Matern: Oh gosh, building up the stamina, honestly. Because this show for Tracy is go, go, go, go, go. The only time I have a break is literally during “It Takes Two.” So, running on the treadmill while singing to get ready. Stamina. That’s been the hardest part.
FRRU: There aren’t bios in the playbill. What is a little bit of your theater background?
Matern: I’ve been doing theater since high school. I am a stay-at-home mom and this is my outlet. I’ve performed a ton a Hale Center theater. I’ve done a few things here. I’ve directed here before. I’ve been Roz in 9 to 5 The Musical; Gertrude McFuzz in Suessical; I’ve played both the Witch and Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods, and that will forever and always be my favorite show.
FRRU: What would you never change about this experience?
Matern: Here’s the thing. Racism is still such a sad, prominent issue in today’s society. It’s been incredible to watch this process. We started as two separate casts. Not on purpose, but you have the “Nice Kids” and the “Other Kids.” Or the “Other Nice Kids”. For a long time, it felt like two different casts and to watch it grow and the way everyone has come together. It’s been incredible and it’s a conversation that we, as a cast, have often and we’re very open about it and its similarities [to the show.] It’s been really great to watch everyone meld and become one.
With the inspiring words of Motormouth Maybelle, “If something is worth having, it’s worth fighting for.” This was an inspiring, fun-filled production that will draw you in from the very beginning and hold you fast till the very last bow.
This is a family-friendly show with a few mild innuendos that are very easily missed if not understood. Each show runs 2½ hrs with a 15-minute intermission. There is elevator access to the 2nd floor theater with restrooms on the 1st floor and inexpensive snack concessions at the entrance.
The Midvale Arts Council presents Hairspray based on the book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman.
Midvale Performing Arts Center, 695 W Center Street (7720 South), Midvale, Utah
June 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 10 at 7:30 PM with a matinee each Saturday at 2 PM.
Tickets: General Admission $7, Senior $5, Child (3-12) $5, Midvale Resident General Admission $6, Midvale Resident Senior/Child Admission $4, Family Pass (one household) $25
Tickets available at www.MidvaleArts.com or can be purchased at the door.
Phone number 385-313-0278