Nancy Sasso Janis
The Taft School in Watertown always opens their big fall musical during Parents Weekend and tickets are not required for any of the five performances. However, these free performances have the look, sound and feel of a very expensive production and I was glad that I managed to attend the Halloween night performance of the Broadway musical ‘Hairspray’ with an almost full house of Taft parents, students and friends.
The small trifold program used one of the columns to explain how the musical was cast with Taft students from around the world and not necessarily with the racial backgrounds as written in the script. The original creators of ‘Hairspray’ (Mark O’Donnell, Scott Wittman, Marc Shaiman, Tom Meehan, and John Waters) ask that audience members use the theatrical concept of “suspension of disbelief” to “witness the story and not the racial background (or gender)” of the actors. “Our show is, after all, about not judging books by their covers!” This proved to be very easy to do because of the quality of the performances by the student actors, costumes designed by Lesley Neilson-Bowman and sets by David Kievit.
Director Helena Fifer spoils the ending in her director’s note and highlights the moral of the story, the hefty doses of campy humor, perky music, irrepressible idealism, as well as “the energy of the show and the songs and dances that occur every five minutes.” She and musical director T.J. Thompson allowed the cast to deliver on all of the above with the assistance of choreographer Sarah Surber. In truth, the dancing was probably the best I have seen in a ‘Hairspray’ production that is executed well by every one of the members of the cast.
Taft senior Maggie Luddy played the perky Tracy Turnblad with a fine belt and excellent dance moves. Several costume changes and a big ‘do set the tone for her lovable character. Marley Thompson (class of 2018) was another standout in the role of the evil Velma Von Tussle. Ms. Thompson had frequent changes into lush fifties power suits and dresses and she rocked her power solo pieces; I couldn’t help be reminded of her wonderful performance as Ursula in ‘Little Mermaid’ a few years back. Kaedi Dalley (class of 2018) succeeded in stealing the show as the rhyming Motormouth Maybelle and sang her heart out for “I Know Where I’ve Been,” with the audience standing to applaud at its conclusion.
The boys of the cast were all strong performers.Tennant Maxey, a senior at Taft, took on the role of Edna Turnblad, and with the help of some padding and his fearlessness was pretty impressive. Tattnall Holt (‘18) was Corny Collins, the suave television host with a heart and Winston Salk (‘18) was strong as the heartthrob Link Larkin. Peter Grustas (‘18) played the adoring Wilbur Turnblad and Julian White (‘16) was smooth as Seaweed J. Stubbs. Freshman Brady Gustas did a terrific job with his roles as Spritzer, the principal and Mr. Pinky.
Equally as busy was Taft senior Sophie Pulver as Prudy Pingleton, the gym teacher and the prison matron and she pulled off all of them with various fun wigs. Kimberly Wipfler, a junior at Taft, had the needed attitude for Amber Von Tussle and Makari Chung (‘16) had a great voice to show off as Little Inez. The ensemble, council members and The Dynamites performed with so much enthusiasm.
Some other costume notes included the fact that when the council members danced on camera for this very early television program, in the first act they were all dressed it black, white and gray; it was a very effective touch.. Motormouth’s ensembles were both appropriate and lovely. Kudos to Elizabeth Cipallina on her great wig design of hair in a wide variety of colors. I also appreciated the brief use of strobe lights during the playground dodgeball scene.
The large orchestra under the direction of Mr. Thompson included many talented Taft students and professionals including Leo Lavallee on trumpet, Jim Luurstema on trombone,and AJ Bunnel on keyboard. They produced a full sound as they played the wonderful songs that are all so hard not to sing along with the cast.
‘Hairspray’ at The Taft School on Woodbury RD in Watertown continues Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 2:30pm and Friday, Nov. 6 at 7:30pm and tickets are not required.
Members of the cast of 'Hairspray' at The Taft School Photo by The Taft School