Defiance’s ‘Hairspray’ a big squirt of fun with a message
Post Independent Arts Writer
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – It was the year 1962. John F. Kennedy was president, gas cost 28 cents a gallon, and Chubby Checker was topping the charts with “The Twist.”
In Oxford, Miss., the civil rights movement continued to heat up as James Meredith attempted to be the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. When riots broke out, federal troops were ordered to Oxford; 300 people were injured, and two were killed.
And, according to the musical “Hairspray,” in Baltimore, Md., a fictitious teenager named Tracy Turnblad was applying layer on layer of hairspray to her bouffant hairdo while dancing, singing and simultaneously fighting prejudice.
On the surface, “Hairspray,” the award-winning Broadway musical that has twice been made into a major motion picture, appears to be a rollicking, campy, early ’60s theatrical funfest, filled with catchy music and choreography. But this extravaganza has a message, too.
“We read the script and thought, ‘This is fun,'” said “Hairspray” director Tom Cochran. The Defiance Community Players board collectively decided to make “Hairspray” the community nonprofit’s theatrical offering this year. “Essentially, it’s a fairy tale. It’s kind of absurd, but it’s still got fairy tale elements to it.”
And it’s got other elements as well.
“Stereotypes, prejudice, body types … it’s all fair game here,” said “Hairspray” musical director Lorie Beattie Courier. “Nothing is sacred. These issues of the ’60s – tolerance, acceptance – are still issues we’re facing today.”
Cochran said it was no problem casting the 40-plus roles the musical requires, particularly among teenage and young-adult actors.
“It’s very popular,” Cochran said. “About two-thirds of the cast is young. It’s a big commitment. We need them sometimes four to five nights a week for six weeks. We had a great turnout at tryouts.”
It’s no wonder then, that a bond – almost like a family – is apparent within Defiance Community Players. Founded 40 years ago in Glenwood Springs, the community theater company has a strong foundation filled with people who have been associated with Defiance since the beginning.
There’s Larry and Sheila Mincer, and there’s Marti and Ken Duprey, who met during the company’s 1975 “Fiddler on the Roof” production. Now their son Pat Duprey serves on the Defiance board and is the sound engineer for “Hairspray.”
The Meitlers are another family with multiple generations in the Defiance family. “Hairspray” producer Jacquie Meitler has been with the company from the start. Her daughter, Jennetta Meitler Howell, 31, is the play’s choreographer.
“It is a big village concept,” Meitler said, dressed in her 1962-vintage best during a rehearsal earlier this month. “We rally people and companies for our shows. For starters, Lowe’s and Mr. T’s give us huge discounts.”
Meitler says she loves seeing what a theatrical experience can do for someone, particularly a young person.
“I see them come in,” she said. “They may be shy. Maybe they’re cast in the chorus. And then we just watch them bloom.”
It’s that personal connection that resonates for Meitler’s daughter Jennetta Meitler Howell. An accomplished singer, dancer and actor, Howell has performed around the world, in New York, L.A., and locally, at the former Crystal Palace in Aspen, and now, at the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue.
“It’s a way to give back to the community,” said Howell of her role as choreographer for the production. “I’m really drawn now to directing and choreographing. It’s teaching. I get so much out of teaching theater to kids.”
In addition to Cochran and Howell, the play’s musical director, Lorie Beattie Courier, rounds out what Meitler calls the “Dream Team.” She said even though the production’s music is a lot of fun, it’s quite complex.
“The music is such an integral part of the plot,” she said. “There are lots of close harmonies. It’s early rock. I guarantee the audience are going to be tapping their feet and clapping their hands.”
For Tom Cochran, directing “Hairspray” is a bit of a time warp. In 1962, Cochran was a freshman in high school.
“Well, it wasn’t exactly like this,” Cochran said with a smile. “It is theater. But it does capture the energy of the time.”
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