Sunday, April 14, 2024

Students rehearse “Hairspray,” the Cambridge Rindge & Latin School’s December musical. (Photo: Larry Aaronson)

More than 100 students at Cambridge Rindge & Latin auditioned for acting, singing and dancing roles in the high school’s December musical comedy, “Hairspray,” setting two records, said director Monica Murray: It’s the largest response ever and the most students of colors attending tryouts than ever before.

“Not only is this the largest ensemble ever attempted,” said Murray, noting its cast of 62 students and tech crew of 15. “I’ve never experienced such deep and sustained enthusiasm from students.”

This can be credited in part to the popularity of the show, which, in production at well over 100 U.S. high schools, is currently the most popular high school drama production. But “Hairspray” was also chosen because of its civil rights themes by educators determined to tap into the student body’s vast pool of talent and showcase its diversity.

The theatrical book, adapted by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan from the film of the same name by John Waters, tells the fictional story of Tracy Turnblad, a sweet, naive, white teenager in working-class East Baltimore circa 1962 who dares to cross the color line, make friends with “negro kids” and rally them to force a local television station to integrate its all-white “American Bandstand”-like dance show. Tracy’s guide to the world of black teen culture is her classmate, Seaweed J. Stubbs, who invites the clueless Tracy to his mother’s exclusively black record store, where he and friends hang out afternoons to dance to R&B and soul music. Tracy is delighted: “Being invited places by ‘colored people’! It feels so hip!”

“The play creates a series of relationships where at least one character, Turnblad, represents ‘the other,’ or a marginalized group. There’s initially internal and external tension and oppression, which evolves to acceptance and then resolves with liberation or social impact. These are classic identity-development journeys around interracial couples, body size/image, class, gender roles, and it’s all happening on the backdrop of civil rights involvement,” said Ed Byrne, CRLS’ diversity counselor.

The parallels to contemporary television shows such as “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent” are obvious, suggesting why the play resonates with so many teenage Americans.

The exhausting rehearsal schedule — students have rigorous singing, dancing and acting routines to practice daily — hint at an enthralling production and one likely to sell out of its $5 tickets.

There will be five shows in the school’s recently renovated Fitzgerald Theatre. Show times are Dec. 1, 2, and 3 at 7 p.m., with two matinee performances Dec. 3 and 4 at 2 p.m. There will be a “talkback” with the cast immediately after the final matinee.

To buy tickets, click here. The Fitzgerald Theatre is at the high school at 459 Broadway.