‘Hairspray’ national tour dances into Mullins Center

By Alissa Mesibov

The national touring production of “Hairspray” makes a stop at the Mullins Center tonight, as part of the University of Massachusetts’ “Broadway in Amherst” series.

The plot, which unfolds in 1962, centers on Baltimore teen Tracy Turnblad. Despite her unconventional weight for a dancer, Turnblad wins a spot on the popular television show, “The Corny Collins Show.” With her newfound fame and open mind, the teen – along with her circle of offbeat friends – is sent on an adventure of romance, activism and plain old fun.

The musical is based on a 1988 film of the same name by the king of camp, John Waters. The film turned Ricki Lake into a star and started a precedent for Waters, whose 1990 film “Cry Baby” would also be turned into a stage musical.

The Broadway production of “Hairspray” opened in 2002 to rave reviews. It was nominated for 12 Tony Awards in 2003, of which it won eight, including Best Musical. The show features an award-winning musical book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan (“The Producers,” “Annie”). The music is composed by Marc Shaiman with lyrics by both Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

“Hairspray” played on Broadway for nearly seven years, an extremely successful run for today’s day-and-age where year-old shows are considered unique. The show made Broadway history as the first successful production starring a plus-size actress. There have been curvaceous lead actors in the past, but before “Hairspray,” Broadway roles were not written with that body type in mind.

“I think Hairspray found a fun, exciting and beautiful way to tribute the human body in any shape, age, color or other dimension,” said Carly Jibson, who played Tracy in both the national tour and on Broadway.

Since “Hairspray” started the trend, many roles have gone to heavier actors. Well-received shows by critics and audience members alike featuring such actors include “Spring Awakening,” “Hair” and the upcoming Green Day musical, “American Idiot.”

While striking on the sensitive issue of weight and female body image, “Hairspray” also deals with themes of racism. Terms that are outdated and considered racist in modern times are used within the show. Still, the musical is considered family friendly and suitable for anyone.

The annual “Broadway in Amherst” has brought multiple theatrical events to the Mullins Center, including “Rain,” a Beatles cover band, as well as “Cirque Dreams: Illumination.” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famed “Cats” will come to Amherst on April 19 and “Cabaret” will close the series on May 9.

“Hairspray” starts at 7:30 p.m. Adult tickets range from $43-$53; tickets for seniors and children 18 and under are $38-$48. Tickets can be purchased online or in person at the box office.

Alissa Mesibov can be reached at [email protected].