"Hairspray" is chock-full of bright colors, peppy dance numbers and yes, hairspray, but at the heart of the show is a message about tolerance and acceptance.
"It has a message of diversity and accepting other people and looking into yourself and your beliefs that I think is an important issue to deal with, especially in our community and the surrounding communities," said Michele Colvin, director of the upcoming production at Cumberland County Playhouse. "It's about being open to diversity in your community. The world is made up of all different colors."
In the midst of learning the music and choreography, the cast and crew have delved into the history of America in 1962. "Of course, the theme of segregation and integration is a large part of that," Colvin said.
Between a Tony Award-winning seven-year run on Broadway and a well-received movie musical remake of John Waters' 1988 original, America has been flush with "Hairspray" fever in the past several years. The Cumberland County Playhouse show is one of the first regional productions of the musical, which Colvin said is important for Southern audiences.
She hopes the central character Tracy Turnblad will speak to the audience.
"(She has an) openness and honesty as a human being to confront the things that she thought were truths and change her opinion."
In the play, Tracy, a plump teenager in 1962 Baltimore, starts out wanting nothing more than to dance on "The Corny Collins Show" and ends up fighting for racial equality. However, the message of acceptance and willingness to learn something new can be related to contemporary controversies including gay rights and sizeism issues.
"It's not just a race issue," said Colvin, "it's ... all different kinds of ways people can hurt other people through ignorance."
"('Hairspray' is) hugely entertaining, and it sends a good message," said actor Jason Ross, who plays Edna Turnblad. "If you're fat, skinny, black, white, whatever, it sends a positive message for people who are different or a little off-kilter to be who you are and take society for what it's worth."
The role of Edna has always been played by a man, but Ross said he doesn't really think of it as drag.
"This is just another character part. It's a woman who's agoraphobic, she has weight issues, and ... her daughter drags her (into the civil-rights movement)," he said. "On the way through all that, she has self-discovery."
The biggest challenge, he said, has been the wardrobe.
"They're building me a fat suit, and I just started rehearsing in high heels, so my feet are killing me."
Ross said his favorite song-and-dance number in the show is "Welcome to the '60s," because it's when Edna comes out of her shell. "Tracy literally leads her by the hand out the door through the streets of Baltimore."
Colvin has a particular fondness for "Good Morning Baltimore" and the ballad "I Know Where I've Been."
"Hairspray" runs at the Cumberland County Playhouse from Thursday through Aug. 30.
Ross asks one favor of prospective audiences: "Pray that I don't fall on my padded (derriere) in those high-heeled shoes."
IF YOU GO
* What: "Hairspray."
* When: Thursday through Aug. 30; various showtimes.
* Where: Cumberland County Playhouse, 221 Tennessee Ave, Crossville, Tenn.
* Admission: $26 adults, $13 kids/students.
* Phone: 931-484-5000.
* Web site: www.ccplayhouse.com.
Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...