There’s nothing like seeing a plump, outgoing girl obsessed with dancing and keeping her hair styled to remind us of how silly racism is.
Completely recognizing this point, director Jeff Santoro sheds light on this touchy subject in comedic musical fashion with Delaware All-State Theatre’s “Hairspray,” which will be held this afternoon at the University of Delaware’s Thompson Theatre.
The production is comprised of 20 students from more than a dozen schools across the state, including the only student from Smyrna School District in Bridget Carrow (Smyrna High School).
Gloss it up
Based on the 1988 hit by John Waters, the Tony Award-winning “Hairspray” is set in Baltimore, Md. during the ‘60s and follows plus-sized teenager Tracy Turnblad (Garcia-Walker) as she chases her dream to dance on “The Corny Collins Show” — a local segregated TV dance program that was based on the real-life “Buddy Deane Show.”
When Turnblad wins the role, she becomes an instant celebrity and immediately launches a campaign to integrate the show. But the show’s racist and scheming TV producer, Velma Von Tussle (Carrow), isn’t up for glitter-head’s shenanigans.
The production is a social commentary on the injustices of parts of American society during the ‘60s — tackling themes such as racism and weight discrimination.
Making a joyful noise
Similar to Carrow, Christina Ashford (Kamilah Marshall), of Dover High School, is the only performer representing her school to be selected for “Hairspray.” Ashford’s character is one of the singers in the black female trio the Dynamites.
Ashford, 16, of Dover, says the role of Marshall had her name written all over it.
“Camilla doesn’t have a speaking part; and that’s one of the main things I like about my character,” said Ashford, a rising senior at Dover High School, who’s also a first-time performer with DAST.
Instead of reciting lines, Marshall solely expresses her feelings and personality by singing sweet melodies.
Little miss Turnblad
Landing the lead role of Turnblad has been a nice going-to-college present for Garcia-Walker, 19, of Middletown, who graduated from Middletown High School in June. She’ll start the next chapter of her life as a freshman at Westminster Choir College in New Jersey this fall.
“It’s such and honor,” said Garcia-Walker, a first-time performer with DAST. “She’s a very passionate character. Black and white means nothing to her. To me it’s an awesome role to play because she has no barriers. And it’s good for the audience to see that because they know you don’t always have to have barriers to have a good time.”
Michael, 16, of Middletown, who plays Turnblad’s love interest in Link Larkin, says Garcia-Walker is a great fit for the part; and it’s not because she helps him remember his lines during rehearsal.
Page 2 of 2 - “I think Amanda is a very strong and confident actress,” said Michael, a rising junior at Appoquinimink High School, who’s also a first-timer with DAST. “And it’s been fun working with her because she definitely corrects me on things: like if I messed up a line or went to the wrong area, she’d give me the death-stare and show me where the right area is.”
‘A straight witch’
Tasked with playing the main antagonist in “Hairspray,” Carrow doesn’t shy away from taking liberties to depict Von Tussle as a self-centered monster who audiences should love to hate. Most notably, she has injected more humor into the character by relying on her arsenal of snobbish facial expressions.
“I think I bring the comedic aspect to Velma, because you can read her as a straight witch and not put the spin on it the way I tried to,” said Carrow, 18, of Clayton, who has been selected to DAST for her fourth consecutive year.
Carrow — who graduated from Smyrna High School in June — added, “I use my eyebrow and make a lot of faces. I’m a big one eyebrow-raiser; I do that a lot. And I priss my lips at Amber [her teenage daughter, who’s also Turnblad’s rival] because she displeases me often.”
DAST was established in 2007 and was shaped by Santoro, along with the help of several creative individuals such as Lisa Nowicki (co-founder), John Gardner (producer), Albert Santoro (producer) and Deb Johnson (associate producer).
The idea behind DAST is simple: give students from elementary, middle, and high schools from across Delaware the unique opportunity to showcase their theatrical talents in an annual large-scale musical production.
Impressed with this year’s batch of performers, Santoro said the group in “Hairspray” will definitely dazzle audiences.
“This cast in ‘Hairspray’ is exceptional,” he said. “They’ve created engaging and robust characters.”