Arts Fest will bow out strong with ‘Hairspray’

Tradition of musicals lives on

“Hairspray,” based on the John Waters film, rounds out the season.

The Art Council’s marketing and communications director, Tim Rowe, says that for as many years as he can remember, a Broadway musical has been a major focal point of the six-week festival.

Rowe is the director of this year’s show and has been involved with the musicals since 1977.

The play was chosen, Rowe said, partly to accommodate the high school and college students who normally audition for the summer musicals. The story line revolves around the experiences of Tracy Turnblad, a plus-sized teenager living in 1962 Baltimore. When she wins a spot on the local television dance show, the story evolves into one about size, love and racial integration. Rowe said, “What the audience comes to realize is that they are watching a show about racial acceptance, and the acceptance of others for a number of reasons.”

The role of Edna, Tracy’s mother, is played by a man – and that’s true of Springfield’s version – but that is never overtly acknowledged by the performers or the audience. “Really,” Rowe said, “on one level it’s a show about family. Tracy’s family accepts her no matter what her weight and the fact that the role of her mother is played by a man is a sort of ‘wink’ at the audience. … It’s nice when a show has a deeper meaning than what’s on stage.”

The show is energetic and funny, with the cast dancing throughout the entire performance. Rowe said the cast of 63 rehearsed four nights a week starting May and he has seen the cast experience growth that parallels the story on stage. “The fun part has been to watch the cast create new friendships and bonds between young and old, black and white, male and female – these are friendships among people who might have never crossed paths had it not been for their participation here.”

This show, the one Rowe called his favorite of the 10 he has directed, will be performed tonight, Saturday and Sunday with American Sign Language interpreters at the Sunday performance. “People are going to be knocked out by some of these performers, and I’m excited to get this show out in front of an audience. I love the cast and the story,” he said.

At 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, the Summer Sundaes series concludes with the local sounds of GoodVibes. The jazz quartet – with members Mark Smarelli on vibraphone, Chuck Young on guitar and vocals, Jim Bonecutter on bass and John Dessinger on drums – have played together for more than a decade.

The series, Rowe said, has been a great way for the festival to bring smaller regional and local acts to the stage while giving the SAC youth ambassadors the opportunity to produce the shows and learn what it takes to bring a successful performance to an audience.

Find more information about the arts festival, go online to springfieldartscouncil.org.

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