Sam Houston State University’s Department of Theatre and Musical Theatre’s “Hairspray” has been sold out for days, showings begin tonight at 8 p.m.
”Hairspray” is a different sort of production for SHSU. It’s a Tony award-winning show that would usually require a large budget to produce. The play hasn’t been set up to be a high school Shakespeare, “Hairspray” carries expectations with it, and it impresses given the budget it works with.
Trying to produce a play at SHSU becomes an artistic challenge, and the production elements in “Hairspray” seemed to rise to the occasion.
The sets were imaginative. Sharp angles and bright pastels filled scenes full of movement. The play didn’t overcommit to the temptation of extravaganza though, multiple scenes opted for a simple curtained backdrop that allowed for a different depth and motion across scenes.
Playing with space was a key part in how the cast and set interacted. The sets, which ranged from a jail cell to a television studio, were a texture to be played with as an audience member. Your eyes could follow the lines and find something to look at, whether it be an actor or prop.
The lighting saw rapid, nearly constant shifts and changes, the movement on the stage were mirrored and highlighted with swirling 60’s patterns and saturated backdrops. One of the play’s questionable decisions came from the constant changes, which seemed to get in the way during quieter, more personal scenes.
Costuming deserves a reference too, as each character had a color pallet and style all their own. It helped distinguish and personalize parts of the play that normally smear into the backdrop.
On the specific characters, each actor on stage seemed at home with their personality. Special mentions should be afforded to Kyle Ward, Cameron Stokes, Anna Drake, Juianna McBride and Steven Bogard. While nearly every member of the cast deserves the same sort of recognition, these five brought an energy apart from the others that helped accentuate scenes and contextualize their characters.
Touching on a point made earlier, “Hairspray” at SHSU comes with a different set of creative struggles than the productions from before. Director and choreographer Greg Graham appears to have been up for the challenge.
The choreography used the theater as well as any production over the last five years has, with full cast and ensemble spinning and twirling in time to the live score. Scenes within scenes, as characters watched TV and the show went on across the stage, felt dynamic and full of options for the audience.
The entire play felt choreographed, designed for fluid movement that drew the audiences eye from space to face and back again.
“Hairspray” came with high expectations that have been upheld, which often isn’t the case with plays and productions at the collegiate level.
Furthermore, the play presents a story that is as current now as it would have been in 1962; a story about equality, inclusion and humanity that is punctuated by humor, romance and heart.
Here’s hoping you already have tickets.