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'Hairspray' rehearsal is mini acts of spontaneity

Opening night is Friday, Feb. 24, 7 p.m.

Published on Thursday, February 16, 2012

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Blythe Snead plays the lead as Tracy Turnblad. This is Snead's first show with the Greer Children's Theater.She has been tap dancing since she was six and performing on stage since she was 13.

Bart Bishop

Blythe Snead plays the lead as Tracy Turnblad. This is Snead's first show with the Greer Children's Theater.She has been tap dancing since she was six and performing on stage since she was 13.



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The “Hairspray” cast, on this night, focused on choreography, with emphasis on the musical numbers and not any acting. The show premieres Friday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. at the J. Harley Bonds Career Center.

Bart Bishop

The “Hairspray” cast, on this night, focused on choreography, with emphasis on the musical numbers and not any acting. The show premieres Friday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. at the J. Harley Bonds Career Center.

By Bart Bishop

The stage has been extended outward and off to the sides, surrounding and breaking down the fourth wall between audience and performers. Vibrant colors enrapture and overwhelm. 

The sound is a roar, and yet individual facets can be picked out: The stage crew stapling lights to the catwalk; the band, just the bass and piano tonight, in the pit; and 60 cast members, ranging from ages 13 to adult, mixing and mingling on stage and up and down the rows and aisles of the theater.

Here the nuts and bolts behind the effortless veneer of opening night are revealed. This is a rehearsal for the Greer Children's Theater production of the musical "Hairspray" at the J. Harley Bonds Career Center, and it's a sight to see even in this infant stage. 

Based on the 1988 John Waters movie, the Broadway show started in 2002 and ran to 2009 and was also adapted into another 2007 movie. The story follows Tracy Turnblad, a "loveable plus-size" teen in 1960's Baltimore. Her passion for dancing wins her a spot on the local TV dance program, "The Corny Collins Show" (based on the real-life Buddy Deane Show). 

Herself prejudiced against, she uses her newfound fame to champion the cause of racial integration, but encounters obstacles at every turn. A campy, fun, but gently subversive tone (don't worry, it's PG rating means it's family friendly) accompanies the vibrant soundtrack that teaches, according to director Kevin Treu, a "message of tolerance, that anyone can be a catalyst for change." 

When not preparing this production, Treu (described as "fantabulous" by his cast) is a Professor and Chair of the Computer Science Department at Furman University. He does, however, have a long history in theater in the Greer and greater Greenville area, having played uncle "Screwtape" at Greenville's The Warehouse Theater production of The Screwtape Letters during the 2010-2011 season. 

As the performers rehearse lines and practice dance moves, get fitted for costumes and chat with friends, Treu prowls around the stage, keeping everyone on task and bringing order to the chaos. As I struggle, with help from stage manager Paul Forbes who somehow manages to be in two places at once, to get in a word with Treu, he conveys to me how much of a "pool of teenage talent there is in Greer," pointing out how even the parent roles in the cast are played by teenagers. He indicates, notably, that Tracy's mother is played by a young man (a tradition, as the role was originated by Divine in the '88 movie, and continued by Harvey Fierstein on Broadway and John Travolta in the '07 movie), and how the people of Greer will "think that's a hoot". 

Tradition can border on superstition in theater, but while it's tantamount that there's a sense of history and weight in every plank of wood and speck of glitter of this production, it's not lacking in spontaneity. There's an energy and enthusiasm in the air that can only be generated in community theater, as they are volunteers and are here entirely by choice. The amount of young people choosing to be here rather than playing video games or watching television at home is enough to buoy the spirit. 

Tonight their focus is on choreography, with emphasis on the musical numbers and not any acting. In the hour I'm there I catch several musical numbers, including "The Nicest Kids in Town" and "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now", and it's a whetting experience. Amidst all the pandemonium, I'm able to pull lead Blythe Snead, in the role of Tracy, aside for a few questions. 

Much like her character, the 19-year-old graduate of Saint Joseph’s Catholic School has an approachable air and infectious glee about her. Although this is Snead's first show with the Greer Children's Theater, she's been tap dancing since she was six and performing on stage since she was 13. Before this she has worked mostly in the Fountain Inn and Easley areas, including Shenandoah at the Foothills Playhouse this last fall. 

While some of her favorite roles include “Jan” in Grease, and “Margarita” in "West Side Story", she says "Hairspray" inspired her in high school. A timid and shy student, Tracy was a positive role model for Blythe. Now she balances taking the best of what predecessors Marissa Jaret Winokur and Nikki Blonsky brought to Tracy while adding her own individuality. When asked why "Hairspray" endures as a popular show, Blythe says it's handling of "archaic practices like segregation and racism," and its ideas about social acceptance, keep it relevant and important today. 

The show premeires Friday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m. I can't wait to see how it all turns out.

Businesses mentioned in this article.

Greer Cultural Arts

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