Bryan Haeffele photos
Wilton Children’s Theater’s production of Hairspray Jr. is a family-friendly, high-energy show, but those expecting a faithful version of the original film presentation of Hairspray may be surprised by what they find.
Set in 1962, Hairspray Jr. celebrates diversity, according to Music Theatre International (MTI)’s script — which WCT purchased for its winter production. According to MTI, Hairspray Jr.’s “curriculum connections” include citizenship, 1960s American music and lifestyle, bullying, tolerance and diversity. It also focuses on racial discrimination and integration in the 1950s and 1960s, which has been cut from WCT’s production.
Instead, the producers and directors chose to focus on a message of coming together and treating others the way you would want to be treated. That message is delivered by focusing on two cliques, the “Greasers” and the “Ra-Ras,” who don’t get along but eventually see they can come together and be friends.
When more than 55 children register for one of Wilton Children’s Theater’s productions, cast members are randomly selected via lottery in order to “provide an even distribution of children by grade and gender,” according to the theater’s website.
In the 1988 and 2007 film versions of Hairspray, the characters of Motormouth Maybelle, Seaweed J. Stubbs and Little Inez Stubbs are played by African-Americans.
Attempts to contact a spokesperson for the children’s theater regarding this aspect of the production were unsuccessful. The play’s director, Ginny Ruggieri, would not comment.
This is not the first time Hairspray Jr. has been performed without African-American actors. In 2012, the Plano Children’s Theatre (PCT) in Plano, Texas, stirred up controversy over its Hairspray cast, which did not have a single African-American actor, according to Elaine Liner’s article “At Plano Children’s Theatre, They’ve Shampooed All the Black Kids Out of Hairspray” in the Dallas Observer.
Ms. Liner interviewed Darrell Rodenbaugh, president of PCT’s board of directors, who said that despite the lack of black actors, the theater decided to put on the show because of “how much the kids wanted to do Hairspray, how they weren’t going to bow to ‘political correctness’ and how ‘the parents expect this,’” according to the article.
Wilton Children’s Theater’s cast of fourth through eighth graders has been rehearsing three days a week since January to prepare for opening night on Friday, March 13, at 7:30 p.m. in the Middlebrook School auditorium. There will be additional shows on Saturday, March 14, at 4 and Sunday, March 15, at 2.
Produced by Cara Calabrese and MaryBeth Peterson, Wilton Children’s Theater’s production of Hairspray Jr. is directed by Ginny Ruggieri, with musical direction by Al Galletly, choreography by Sandra Ross, set design by Brooke Burling, and set construction by Kevin Blackwell.
Tickets may be purchased for $12.60 online at wiltonchildrenstheater.org/tickets or $12 at Middlebrook through Thursday, March 12, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and at the Village Market through Friday, March 13, from noon to 2.