The house lights dim and the band begin to play. The Aspect Theatre production of the musical Hairspray transports the audience to 1960s America and the civil rights movement of the period. The musical looks at a number of themes including discrimination and race-equality. Theatre People recently contacted Director Lyn Laister and Musical Director Emma McGeorge for their takes on the themes of the show, pre-production thoughts, and insights of the character each would play from the show if given the chance.
TP: Hairspray visits some important themes such as race equality and people’s appearances. Are these themes prominent throughout the score and dialogue?
LL: Discrimination based on looks and race are the major themes of the show. These are issues for every generation. The musical is set in 1962 in USA, which was a period where young people were starting to question segregation policies.
EM: It is certainly prominent throughout the dialogue, as the word ‘negro’ is just a normal part of their vocabulary. The music has a much more subtle way of showing the difference. The so-called “white” numbers are very clean cut, crisp and tight, where a lot of the “black” numbers are a lot more laid back and funky.
TP: Which elements of the show have provided the greatest challenge for you as an M.D.?
EM: Probably the limited rehearsal time. It’s a three rehearsals a week show, and we only had two. As such, the vocal rehearsals seemed rather short, especially for a show with such intense harmonies. However I was blessed with a very talented and hardworking cast, who have managed to learn all of the harmonies, dance moves and blocking to pull together this amazing show.
TP: When did your journey/involvement into Music theatre begin?
EM: I was fed on a pretty steady diet of musical theatre growing up. In the early years it was the repertoire of the great Rodgers and Hammerstein. And then, during high school, I discovered the ‘92 cast recording of the Australian tour of Jesus Christ Superstar (you know the one with John Farnham), and dedicated most of that year studying and learning the score off by heart. After that I was hooked, and realised Musical Theatre was a world I just had to be a part of!
TP: Can you share some moments of the cast and their bonding as a group for the readers of Theatre People?
EM: There are two moments that stick out for me. One was right at the beginning of the whole process, when we just finished learning the vocals for the opening number. I think the cast was surprised at the power of their own harmonies, like they didn’t think they could do it. But boy were they wrong! That night you couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces, or mine for that matter. The second point was the first time we did a full run in the theatre. Backstage you could feel the energy, and on stage you could see it. There were all these little quirks and jokes being thrown around, it was such an optimistic atmosphere, and it was the most relaxed I’d seen the cast for a while.
TP: What were some of the considerations in the production process? (i.e. physical limitations of the theatrical space etc.)
LL: The Shirley Burke Theatre is quite small. There is no fly-system and the side of stage area is also extremely small. I opted for a simple but effective set, to allow the script, lyrics and dance movement to create the energy of the musical. I wanted to cast people who were a perfect fit for the characters.
EM: For a musical score it’s not actually that difficult… Every single song is such a showstopper that all the music is so much fun to play.
TP: What have been your favourite moments of pre-production?
EM: My favourite moment would definitely be the number “I Know Where I’ve Been.” It’s such a powerful song, and the overwhelming vocals of not only our Motormouth Maybelle (Jennifer Biggs) but also the ensemble as a whole, has the potential to bring the whole theatre to tears.
LL: I love the audition process. I love finding my way through a scene with the performers. I love it when we first hear the orchestra at sitzprobe. And I love our first full dress rehearsal in the theatre. I also love the fact that we have a SOLD OUT season before Opening night! Sorry, too many favourites??!
TP: What are your thoughts on opening night?
EM: The house lights lowering and the prologue music starting. As I’m situated back stage with the cast, there is this current running through the cast as we realise all of our hard work these past months is about to pay off.
LL: I am on the edge of my seat with excitement, because I know we have a GREAT show, with an amazing cast, crew and orchestra. I am looking forward to giving the audience a brilliant night of entertainment with some of the best vocals I have heard in a long time.
TP: When you look back on this production of Hairspray what message do you hope to have portrayed?
LL: I hope I have shown that you can achieve anything, if you put your heart and soul into an idea and follow through no matter what.
TP: The character from Hairspray that I would like to play on stage is…
EM: That is a tricky question. There are so many great characters in this show. I would probably pick Amber von Tussle. Sometimes there’s nothing better than playing a mean character!
LL: Motormouth Maybelle
TP: Because that character…
EM: I’d get to play a character that’s just so unlike myself, that it would be quite liberating. Her songs are just hilarious amounts of fun! She gets to sing “Cooties”, which is such a fun song to sing and dance to. Plus it’s short, so the audience wouldn’t be subjected to my voice for very long!
LL: She has the best songs to sing and her character exudes warmth and love for everyone.
Hairspray runs from 12th July to 20th July at Shirley Burke Theatre Parkdale
Bookings: www.aspecttheatre.com After Hours Enquiries: 9580-8415