Hairspray: A Whimsical Night at the Theatre with Important Life Lessons

By Mark A. Leon
By Mark A. Leon

Hairspray:? A Whimsical Night at the Theatre with an Important Life Lesson

Racial issues are as visible a concern today as they were in 1962, the setting year of the new Charleston Stage production of Hairspray.

The extreme nature of assembly, protest and action may have changed over the years, but the need for awareness and acceptance continues to ring true.? The Charleston Stage adaptation of Hairspray has successfully brought this to the forefront with color, musical celebration and a closing number that will have the entire audience standing in celebration.

The background of the Baltimore skyline married the styles of Escher and Picasso, bringing a feeling of animation and reality into one.? Costume design played a vital character in this production with rich colors creating a rainbow tapestry with each dance number.? Finally, a cast resembling young versions of Alan Freed, the Beach Boys and James Brown shined in this coming of age musical comedy.

The story is simple, girl loves to dance; girl meets boy; girl is white, boy is black; they inspire each other; girl fights the establishment and in the end, it doesn’t matter if you are black or white because love and passion see no color and life is a celebration of love.

The script, scenes and the acting are all conducted with a comical flare to release the pressure of the topic matter.? In the end, the audience is taken for a ride powered by music, comedy and compassion.

It was a site unlike most during the final musical performance when the entire audience and we mean not a butt to a chair danced in the aisle while rocketing a series of claps and screams.? Pure theatre admiration from the orchestra to the balcony.

The show stopper occurred in act two during one moving scene when Motormouth Maybelle, played by Letty Clay who stands no more than five foot nothing belted an emotional rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been” outlining her plight as a black woman in America in the 20th century.? As she hit the high notes like a hundred canons firing at once, the entire audience roared in approval.

Under the direction of Marybeth Clark, her and her team chose a cast that complimented each other well in song, dance and dialogue.? In two beautiful debut performances, Lakeisha Gamble (Lil’ Inez), an 11th? grade student and attendee at the School of the Arts and T’voris Singleton (Stooie) a 23 year old in his first production both shined on stage like professional stars.

Pen Chance tackled the roll of Edna Turnblad, the mother of our lead heroine with the same charm and charisma as previous actors that have taken on this challenging role.

Lara Allred (Velma Von Tussle) as the former beauty queen turned producer whose narrow minded views on black and white culture transformed well.? Of course, Maggie Saunders took on the leading role of Tracy Turnblad, a complex teenager whose simplicity in a world of complexity taught us all that beauty is truly on the inside.

For two hours of explosive color, full stage choreographed dance and music and lyrics celebrating life, love and dreams, this is the production for you.? ?You will be taken to where pop and R&B come together as one with major life lessons.? Come out to see Hairspray at the Historic Dock Street Theatre.

Hairspray is playing September 7 – 25 at the Historic Dock Street Theatre

The Magic of Mary Poppins Teaches Life Lessons – Charleston Stage

By Mark A. Leon / Edited by Loretta Jophlin
By Mark A. Leon / Edited by Loretta Jophlin

It may have been the unseasonal spring breeze or the sweet laughter of a dozen young ladies holding white umbrellas, but my stroll down the cobblestones of Church Street to the historic Dock Street Theater was foreshadowing of a magical evening where I would meet, Mary Poppins for the first time.

Let us for a moment fast forward to the conclusion of the play. It is a rare sight when an audience’s standing ovation transitions directly into a choral sing along. To the clapping and chanting of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, the audience of children and adults alike joined the cast in a theater-wide celebration of life, family and youth. It was a joyful moment of exuberance that sent shivers from aisle to aisle. Characters joined the patrons in the aisles, dancing and singing until the final moments of the two hour and fifteen-minute production.

The Charleston Stage musical live adaptation of Mary Poppins is nothing short of artistic precision on a musical canvas. The vibrant colors of cherry blossoms in London and the welcoming teal of the children’s bedroom underscored a masterful set design that welcomes the audience into the magical world of Mary Poppins.
Barbara Young’s costume design swept the audience away to turn of the century England with its proper attire and class distinctions, rounding out the character personalities perfectly.

The use of strings for floating props and dramatic entrances played a critical supporting role in the production. The audience stood in awe at the edge of their seats as Mary arrived from the sky. During a wonderful musical number, Bert, played with lovable delight by Nathan Burke, scaled the walls dazzling a child in the audience who yelled out, “He’s on strings!” Even with that comment, the magical tricks of live theatre could not take away the feeling of wonderment.

Every child and adult found themselves humming or softly singing along to “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” yet the number that delighted me most was “Step in Time “in Act II. High on the rooftop, with an ensemble cast of chimney sweepers, Mary and Bert reminded us of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire with a comical ensemble flurry of Chaplin mixed in. It was a memorable and well-choreographed scene by Cara Dolan. Showing how the simple class worker could rejoice in the celebration of life high above on the rooftops, almost touching the stars, was an important element to the plays message of acceptance and happiness.

The picturesque Talk Shop / Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious scene deserves special mention. Here we are introduced to Mrs. Corey, a charming woman who never ages and runs the Talking Shop. With the use of letters, colorful costumes, playful and educational mayhem, that scene was a delight to witness as the audience members found themselves singing along

Veruka Salomone and Tyler Caplea as Jane and Michael Banks took on the extraordinary task of playing two young children in a home void of love, transforming through the magical world of Mary Poppins into a period of enlightenment. Their awakening from a conscious sleep and discovering the value of family, love and acceptance was the pivotal message of this play. Through the eyes of Mary Poppins, they found feelings hidden within themselves. In this enlightenment, George Banks, the children’s father played by Patrick Tierney, rediscovered a youth he thought he lost forever.

With a subtle smile and firm confidence, Carin Lagerberg played the the role of Mary Poppins perfectly. The complex character, made famous by the great Julie Andrews, requires an actress who authentically exudes firm discipline, a warm heart and a deep understanding of the value of family. Lagerberg made us believe she truly was Poppins, entering the lives of the Banks children and giving them what we all yearn for; a feeling of being loved.

Throughout the performance, Mary’s character introduced us all to her magical world. In the end, it wasn’t her flying umbrella, endless bag of props, or ability to bring stuffed animals and toys to life that won us over. It was her classy and beautiful way of reminding us that we are all young and innocent with the same desires for love and imagination.

Looking around, I watched children peering up at their parents and smiling, pointing to the stage, laughing, singing and curling up in their parents’ arms. Sometimes, you experience something that puts you in a better place. Charleston Stage’s production of Mary Poppins is both entertaining and a valuable reminder of why we should love our family and stay young as long as we can.

Click Here to Purchase Tickets – Mary Poppins

A Message of Hope from Dock Street’s The Diary of Anne Frank

Your journey begins with an exquisite set design inviting you in with a bed of tulips in the forefront and a cramped shelter with the walls and floors covered in the writings of a thirteen year old dreamer.? The back center wall is a soft and heartfelt black and white image of Anne Frank.? Before the first words are uttered, the audience becomes part of a two year struggle for survival.? Surrounded by chaos and uncertainty, these eight children and adults from different backgrounds and lifestyles endured starvation, alienation and potential death.? At the heart of situation was a young, energetic young lady named Anne Frank who shared her experiences with the world through her personal and candid observations during this period of hiding.

Played with poise and emotional strength by Lila Clark, a freshman at Academic Magnet High School, Lila brought a air of innocence, warmth, hope and optimism to the stage.? Her portrayal of Anne was highlighted by the many layers she exposed during her performance.? Throughout the live production, you witnessed a young lady with the same dreams, boyhood crushes and imagination as any young boy or girl, but her situation was unlike any other.? Throughout the performance, she brought a level of energy and complexity that complimented the acting troop and comforted the audience who watched fully aware of the impending tragedy.? Her playful demeanor and mature observation of the world around her was played elegantly.? As we moved toward a bitter climax, we never lost site of hope as we witnessed her first crush, her nightmare episodes and her dreams to dance and travel to Paris.

Victor Clark gave an exceptional portrayal of the? role of Otto Frank, the grounded and calm father and business owner.? His ability to absorb all the chaos and maintain a sense of order was a gift on stage.? His relationship with Anne and ability to internalize all his fears provided salvation to the rest of the residents who hid in silence for over two years.

In the background the sounds of sirens and planes built up the tensions and inside the cramped quarters, the eight Jewish survivors waited, starving not knowing if they would live or die.

The Diary of Anne Frank as told by the Dock Street Theater, was not a story of Nazis and Jews (though a flag of Europe and Asia with a swastika was ordained on the back wall), good versus evil or coming of age.? It is a story of family, hope and love.? One of the greatest tragedies of this story is that a young girl, intelligent, loving and full of dreams was taken from us.? In her foresight, Anne wanted to leave behind a reminder of not just her life and struggles, but all those that fought to stay alive.

Anne Frank was the biographer of a generation lost and never truly got to see the importance of her words.

As the story begins, we see a black and white image of Anne center stage on the back wall.? Her father walking through the hidden shelter one final time after the war had past and the survivors were released from the concentration camps. ? Along with a scarf and glove on the floor, he finds Anne’s journal.? For the next two hours, we are taken through those pages, feeling the pain Otto felt being the last survivor.? During a Hanukkah scene in December, 1944, Otto recited the Hanukkah prayers on the first night.? One candle representing his future, alone without family.

The supporting cast contributed well depicting the anger and anticipation.? Complimented by Steve Fordham, who has been a fixture in the community as a long time actor, playing Jan Dussell, Benjamin McCoy as young Peter Van Daan, Maddy Seabrook as Margot Frank, Andrea Rausch and Kent Reynolds as the Van Daan’s and Beth Curley as Edith Frank, the mother of reason trying to understand why this madness was happening all around.

The strength of the performances of Lila Clark and Victor Clark to some extent minimized the contributions of the supporting cast, but overall, the actors played off of each other well and provided an excellent interpretation of Anne Frank’s writing.

The direction of the play by Julian Wiles was artistic and respectful.? By creating separation points throughout the stage and panning light on the key scenes, he could capture the essence of the quarters and still provide direction to the audience on the emphasis of the scene.? Whether it was Anne writing at her desk or a hug from her father after a nightmare, the soft lighting with the backdrop of darkness let us be part of something intimate.

This is an personal story told from the heart of a teenage girl.? Even in the end, she never stopped believing and hoping.

In a time of adversity, we have one thing that can keep the heart strong and that is love.? Anne Frank has taught millions of people that lesson in the last 70 years since her passing.? Dock Street used gentleness and dignity to interpret her words and bring them back to life.

?The Diary of Anne Frank will be playing at Charleston Stage at Dock Street February 11 – March 1 – Tickets