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‘Hairspray’ takes on tough issues with comedic style

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By Sara Miller

Evergreen’s musical theater community has certainly had success with the 1960s. Last year the Evergreen Players presented “Hair” as the summer musical to kick off Arts Alive week. This year, we do the Twist and the Mashed Potato even further back in time in the early 1960s in the Players’ production of “Hairspray.”

“Hairspray” was written by John Waters and is said to have been semi-autobiographical about his time growing up in Baltimore. On the face of it, a musical about overcoming racial discrimination and prejudice does not sound like it would be a barrel of laughs. However, just a few seconds into “Hairspray,” and any doubts about whether it could work are blown away. The show is loud, colorful and hilarious, while still portraying 1962’s politically charged fight for civil rights with a backdrop of campy bubblegum pop.

The story takes place in 1962, when proudly plump Tracy Turnblad (Bailey Walton) wants to win a spot as a dancer on the Corny Collins TV show, to make every day “Negro Day” — the one day a month blacks are allowed on the show — and to win the heart of Elvis knock-off Link Larkin (Patrick May). Tracy and some of her fellow dancers can’t understand why the black kids aren’t allowed to star on the TV show, and they team up to overthrow the old establishment and introduce their funky dance moves to the masses.

The Players’ cast of 28 is will have the theater buzzing with youthful energy. Many of the cast members are new to the Players’ stage and are excited to share their talents in Evergreen. The backstage “cast” is as strong as the onstage talent — and backstage support is definitely a family affair. The show is directed by Brenda Billings, daughter of P.K. Worley, a patriarch of Evergreen theater. Brenda’s only brother, Tag, is the show’s assistant music director and plays the drums in the show’s live orchestra. Tag’s wife, Alann Worley, is the show’s choreographer. Brenda’s daughters also play key roles in the show. Jacquie Jo Billings plays Penny Pingleton, Jessica Billings Barnette is the assistant director, and Jamie Billings is Brenda’s directorial understudy.

Whether related by blood or simply a love of theater, the cast, crew and audiences of “Hairspray” become part of the Evergreen Players family. And “Hairspray” is a true American fairy tale to be enjoyed with family. It’s not every day that the fat girl gets her prince while advancing the cause of social justice, and does it all while doing the Watusi or The Pony through the streets of Baltimore.

Sara Miller, a freelance writer and a resident of Evergreen, lives with her husband, two children and a dog.

‘Hairspray’

Presented by the Evergreen Players July 12 through Aug. 4

Performances: Fridays, Saturdays (no performance on July 13) and Sundays at 2 p.m. and Sunday, July 14, at 7:30 p.m. at Center/Stage, 27608 Fireweed Drive

Tickets: $25 adults, $20 seniors (60-plus) and students; group and youth (12 and under) discounts are available.

Tickets are available by calling 303-674-4934 or online at www.evergreenplayers.org.