The SCERA’s “Hairspray” Shows Comedy’s Power to Enrich an Audience

hairspray sceraBy Jason Evans

 SCERA’s current production of Hairspray proves once again that comedy has great power to enrich an audience when approached from a serious position, leaving us feeling like our lives are made better by experiencing it. But the rich comedy can still entertain and we find us leaving the theater filled with sheer joy.

As director Jan Shelton Hunsaker states in her director’s notes: back in 1962, when Hairspray takes place, America was in the midst of a great civil rights struggle. Today, we are fighting an even greater one.

Our country is often on opposite sides on how to deal with important issues: Muslims, immigration, the LGBTQ community, modern society’s views of beauty, obesity, and the list goes on and on. It seems that in every way, this country is polarizing and people are becoming more distant from one another. Hairspray celebrates love, life, family, community, and through the heroic and optimistic eyes of the shows heroine, Tracy Turnblad (Chelsea Lindsay), we see that we are all alike, and that diversity, acceptance, tolerance are traits that should be admired and encouraged, not ridiculed and discouraged.

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Thank goodness for excellent productions like the SCERA gives our community. An audience is much more receptive to soul-searching and looking at itself when presented through the rose-colored glasses of musical comedy. All great musical comedies throughout the history of theater have done this, and Hairspray is no exception.

Jan Shelton Hunsaker and her brother Brad’s scenic design captured the heart of the 60s with great musical theater style but simple in its presentation. Deborah Bowman’s wonderful costumes were bright, colorful, and a feast for the eyes as well as a great way to distinguish between characters. This is especially helpful because the Shell’s stage is large. Bowman is a master at this and her designs never disappoint. Elizabeth Griffith’s lighting was the most elaborate I’ve ever seen on the Shell stage; it helped to convey the energy and excitement of this show.

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First and foremost, the ensemble work in this show was great. The energy was there and I know will continue to expand and increase in energy each night of the run. The energy of the ensemble was infectious.

Lindsay’s Tracy Turnblad was unique and was the first time I had seen an actress play this role with equal optimism but also realistic expectations.. From the opening number, “Good Morning, Baltimore,” I was hooked and rooting for her the entire evening. Her infectious laugh was endearing and I just wanted to be up on stage with her taking the journey with her.

Hairspray at the SCERA

Michael Thomas as Seaweed Stubbs and Tearza Leigh Foyston as Penny Pingleton in the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre’s production of “Hairspray.”

Tearza Foyston’s Penny Pingleton was the surprise of the evening. Unlike other performances I’ve seen, Foyston was bright, funny, endearing. She and Tracy were a force to be reckoned with. Her journey from innocence to allowing herself to have fun and take more risks was believable and a joy to watch.

What can I say about Andrew Lloyd Hunsaker and his incredible, hilarious, moving portrayal of Tracy’s mother, Edna? Hunsaker is an actor I’ve admired and loved for a very long time. He embodies each of his roles with professionalism and a love for each character he portrays, and Edna is no exception. He took command of the stage every time he was on and I fell in love with the relationship between Edna and Tracy from the start. Hunsaker played this role as it should be, a complex and beautiful wife and mother who would do anything for her family. There were many times throughout the evening I forgot Hunsaker was playing the role, I only saw Edna.

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Andrew Hunsaker as Edna Turnblad and Chelsea Lindsay as Tracy Turnblad in the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre’s production of “Hairspray.”

The male leads, Dennis Wright (Wilbur Turnblad), Jaxon Dayton (Link Larkin), Kristian Huff (Corny Collins), and Michael Thomas (Seaweed J. Stubbs) were all fun to watch and each portrayed their characters with integrity and honesty. Our villains, Leslie Preator-Keckley (Velma Von Tussle) and Sasha Sloan (Amber Von Tussle) were hilarious and fun and I loved the fact they didn’t portray them as cardboard villains. In this production of Hairspray, they are human, a product of their time, and in the end, join the community, so there is some hope for them.

Last but not least, the incredible Luseane Pasa as Motormouth Maybelle is a shining star. This is my favorite character in the show and Pasa brought such integrity and compassion to the role. She is the one that brings the message of the show to the audience, the great 11 o’clock number, “I Know Where I’ve Been.” A final compliment to Daisy Allred as Little Inez; what a wonderful character and her energy was infectious the entire evening.

Finally, Tiffany Winkel Nutter did such a wonderful job with the music and her choreography was unique and added so much to the production. There was dance in portions of the show that I have never seen dance in before, and it added so much to those scenes and to the portrayal of the story. It’s a big job to handle such a large ensemble, and she did it with professionalism and great style. Welcome back to Utah, Ms. Nutter. Utah Theater has missed you.

The SCERA has produced a great piece of musical theater and this is a show not to be missed. If you’ve never seen it before, get yourself down to Orem and experience what is Hairspray. If you’ve seen the movie, or have seen another live production, still attend this one. There is enough that’s fresh and new that you will love this show even more.

Note: If you’ve never been to the SCERA shell theater—it’s outdoors. Take a blanket or camp chair to sit on, a jacket (it gets chilly once the sun goes down), and maybe some bug spray.

The show plays Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 PM at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre in SCERA Park in Orem, Utah. 699 S State St. Gates open at 7:00PM with the box office opening at 6:30PM on the north side of the Shell. You can also purchase tickets online at www.scera.org, in person at the SCERA Center for the Arts, 745 S State St in Orem, Utah; Monday-Friday (10:00  AM-8:00PM), Saturday (Noon-8:00 PM) or call 801-225-ARTS.

The SCERA’S Christmas Musical is Filled with Holiday Joy

likenBy MH Thomas

Throughout LIKEN’s The First Christmas the lyrics, “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute. . . ” kept going through my head. The season has kind of sneaked up on me, and seeing this show was a good way to start my own Christmas season celebration.
The set designer (who doubles as the director), Jan Shelton Hunsaker, made the cozy living room on one corner of the stage work with the massive walls of an ancient village. The story of the nativity of Jesus Christ is told by a modern family. Each segment is started in the living room and progresses into the Biblical setting.

We meet this little family as the show begins. Parents and two recalcitrant children arrive at the home of their joyous grandparents. The friend who attended with me remarked that, “those teenagers were just like real teenagers”—a compliment to Olivia Keating and Wesley Hadfield. Grandpa (Jerry Ferguson) has a very natural way about him as he jokes around with his grandchildren. Grandpa starts the Christmas story with the Shepherds. Omar (Kyle Baugh) has a pleasing voice as he leads the song, Everything We Need. He, along with the other five shepherds, make a very enjoyable singing group. Kudos to the music director, Kathryn Little.

liken 2We are taken through the Christmas story, from Elizabeth and Zacharias to Mary and Joseph. The story continues with the Shepherds and Angels and the Inn Keepers, Wise Men and King Herod. The songs are lovely and carry the story along to the conclusion where all meet the Baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

The singers in this production are very well cast. Zacharias and Elizabeth (Luone Ingram) complement one another as they sing the touching, A Hand to Hold. Other standout singers are Caroline Chauncey as Mary and Jason Case as Joseph. The angelic choir also sings very nicely—and I enjoyed seeing the many smiling faces as they sang their songs. At times, the angels perform the equivalent of a Mormon gospel choir. A bit subdued, compared to the real thing, but well done. The Angel Gabriel, seen throughout the show, is expertly portrayed by Daniel Beck. He has a commanding speaking and singing voice and his costume is impressive. He plays the part with just the right amount of humor, when the scene calls for it, and he is a bright spot (literally and figuratively) in the production. The joy on his face and in his voice is contagious and spreads to the rest of the cast. His lively performance really adds a special something to the show.

For the modern family, the costuming had to be able to work as contemporary clothing and then with a few additions work into the ancient clothing style of the rest of the cast. At times, especially with the Wise Men, this gave the impression of a family Christmas pageant—but that just added to the charm of the show. Kelsey Seaver did an impressive job of costuming this large cast.

liken 1This show is appropriate for all ages and for any who celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. After the main part of the cast leaves the stage, don’t rush to get up. There is a beautiful little vignette at the end. It is a sweet reminder of the meaning of Christmas.

Nov 21 – Dec 13, 2014 Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays @ 7:30pm

$12 Adult, $10 Child (age 3-11), $10 Senior (age 65+),
GROUP RATES
$10 Family/Corporate groups of 20 or more, $6 Church/Non-profit groups of 20 or more

SCERA Center: Showhouse II
745 South State Street, Orem, UT 84058