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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. Lantz even believes that as the story evolves so does the fashion.

The girls start the performance in full skirts and perfectly pressed blouses. But as the ideas in the production progress to accepting people for who they are and ending racial segregation, so do the styles. Eventually the fashion transforms into sleeker and sexier silhouettes.

DeCamp says that the outfits that the actors wear represent parts of the story.

“We’re building and building and building until we have this culminating moment where the costumes are just fabulous,” he said. “But also it’s this culminating moment in the story where we kind of bridge the gap between two races and two communities that have been so divided over the course of the rest of the musical.”

Costumes are not only for the audience’s enjoyment, but are just as important to the actors.

“Its always so surprising how much more of the character you feel like when you put on a costume,” Orr said.

For actors, putting on a costume helps them transform into the person they’re supposed to be. For Levinson, it not only transforms him into who the character is, but what the character is — a mother.

“Hairspray” camps it up by having Tracy’s hefty mother portrayed by a man. It’s surely meant for comic relief, but for the actor playing the role, comedy is not the first thing on his mind.

Levinson says the costumes are necessary for him to get into character and let it all out.

“It’s one thing to shimmy when you’re dancing, but when you’re shimmying with big boobs, it’s much easier to go crazy,” he said.

The costumes parallel the exhilaration of “Hairspray” ’s big and bold, Broadway-sized numbers. Songs such as “You Can’t Stop the Beat” exude but also bring the audience down to earth with everyday wear in the less spectacular times. They also show an importance and personality of a character before the story can.

But mostly, the costumes from “Hairspray” want to welcome us to the ’60s.


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