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MUSKET's production of 'Hairspray' to use costumes to evoke time and place

Teresa Mathew/Daily

By Arielle Speciner, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 16, 2012

“Hairspray,” this semester’s MUSKET performance, is a sparkling, stylish stage production with as much heart as there are sequins.

Full, floral and flowing skirts dance around the Power Center stage. Lines of Converse and Ked shoes twist and shout to the latest tunes. Men’s shirts are neatly pressed, tucked into their waist-high slacks. And without the actors saying a word, the audience is transported back to the 1960s.

The time is 1962 and the place is Baltimore. Tracy Turnblad, a turbulent teen with a thirst for fame, fashion and racial integration (According to the character, “it’s the new frontier”), turns the entire town around with her charm, dance moves and hair-do.

The ’60s were a time of fast-changing fashion. They were also a time of image fixation and racial segregation. “Hairspray” combines all of that into a full-length production representative of the era. The show, in true theatric fashion, adds some glamour and whimsy to the period’s not-so-innocent presence.

Yet “Hairspray” proves there is more to a show than high-kicks and vocal runs. Winning a Tony Award in 2003 for Best Costume Design, the production tells a story through wardrobe along with musical numbers.

“Costume goes hand-in-hand with realizing the importance of the decade and what it says about the real message of the show,” said Gideon Levinson, an LSA freshman who embodies Edna Turnblad in the show.

According to Business sophomore Hillary Ginsberg, who plays Tracy Turnblad, costumes give a sense of time of day, transitions and how significant a plot point is.

MUSKET is one of the largest student production groups at the University.

Because of their time constraint and smaller design unit, the costumer designers must buy and rent a large portion of the outfits for the production. By adding embellishments and altering the pieces, designers create a unique look and feel to the production.

The costumes are also important when introducing a character. There is a scene in which the “Nicest Kids in Town” are introduced and Amber Von Tussle, the Corny Collin’s show’s self-absorbed star, struts out in a skirt significantly fuller than others onstage. The silhouette is larger and much more noticeable. Through this, the audience learns she’s a central and egocentric character.

School of Music, Theatre & Dance Sophomore, Mackenzie Orr, who plays Link Larkin, agreed that costume has a big effect on how the audience views a character.

“A lot of times it says a lot about who the character is outside of the spoken lines,” he said. “It adds another layer of understanding for an audience or anybody who is watching.”

When it comes to a show as bold and bright as “Hairspray,” costume choice is an intricate process, especially when the director and costume directors aim to create a realistic but equally entertaining world.

“We have struck a very nice balance between painting a realistic picture but then staying true to some of the bigger than life, larger than life moments in the show,” said MT&D senior and director of the show, Will DeCamp. “So we haven’t sacrificed any of the volume.”

Style was of the utmost importance — especially to the Baltimore youth of the time. This notion was utilized in choosing and designing outfits for the production.

The costume designers and director’s goal was to stay as true to the time period as possible through costume. Lantz even goes so far as selecting materials that were around in the ’60s. She explained that they chose not to use stretchy fabrics such as spandex because they weren’t invented yet.

“That’s why we keep coming back to ‘this looks great, we totally love this, but it’s not totally true to the year’,” Lantz said.

The looks in “Hairspray” not only communicate the what and where of the story, but also introduce and intensify major events.