Player’s highly anticipated Fall production of Hairspray has generated quite a buzz. But is this buzz one of excitement or concern? I think excitement.
Hairspray is centered on a girl’s journey to overcome both size bias and racism in 1960s Baltimore. The musical addresses issues of race in the 1960s, but also forces the audience to address racism in the present world. Unfortunately, the musical, which was seen as progressive at the time of its conception and still today, does display a certain amount of aversive racism. Black stereotypes as well as certain language highlight things that are anything but progressive. The musical features Tracy Turnblad, a white protagonist, as the principle character pushing for racial equality. This raises the question of how progressive the musical is in a modern society.
In addition, Hairspray has been known to unintentionally create racial controversy when casted in a certain way. In 2012 a production in Texas raised eyebrows with the hiring of an all white cast. The director of the show commented that it was simply because no black actors auditioned. This is a problem many directors have address when casting a racially sensitive show, but is it better to be “politically correct”, or to simply allow the actors who auditioned to perform? Jill Garrett, director of the Player’s Fall production commented that she “did have some worries about casting because [she] didn’t know who would audition” but was also willing to cast the play in a multi-racial way as to not discriminate against the actors themselves. The Fall production does feature both white and Hispanic actors portraying certain traditionally black characters, but Garrett feels that it won’t disrupt the flow of the story and was done in a way that “the audience wouldn’t even notice”.
Now the real question: Should you take your kids? The answer is, absolutely! Having noted the musical’s mature themes, and somewhat controversial tendencies, the show can still be a great educating tool for young children who are just getting introduced to the topic. Garrett did, however, note that “it is a complex topic for young children to comprehend, and it is something that parents should talk to their kids about”. But with the presence of upbeat songs and fun dances, the musical will be used to entertain the community more than anything.