Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hairspray, Jr. – Based on the New Line Cinema film written and directed by by John Waters, Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman

By Joe Straw

Living in the Deep South in the 1960s – embracing the poverty that accompanies a military family’s journey – the finer things in life, like Aqua Velvet, was the hairspray of fiscal practicability.  It was the only thing my single mother of five could afford.

Aqua Velvet was thick, flashy, cheap, strong holding, and worked so well that it was, well, I could bounce bobby pins off the impenetrable strands of my sisters’ plastered hair. 

And thinking back, the aerosol that was engulfed into my sibling’s lungs was the same lofty fluorocarbons that put numerous holes in the ozone layer.  

So many things back then were, just, wrong. – Narrator

But nothing was wrong with dee-Lightful Productions presentation of Hairspray, Jr. written by John Waters and directed by Dolores Aguanno from July 9, 10, 11, and 12, 2014 at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Culver City.  Everyone leaves the theatre in a state of happiness and isn’t that what theatre is all about.

(This is the closest I’ve been to a dee-Lightful Production and for the sake of conflict of interest I acknowledge that my daughter performed in this musical.)

So technically, I was embedded, albeit slightly, and this gave me the opportunity to make a few mental notes while waiting for rehearsals to end.

Notwithstanding, organized chaos was the order of the day.  But, each person had their own particular job and you’ve got to hand it to the crew, wrangling that many kids in this camp has many challenges.  In short, there was a structure to this chaos.  Sign in/out sheets, go here, go to that room, move this way, dance that that way, missing dialogue, running for costumes, etc., but one has to marvel at the accomplishments made during the course of the day.  They were all tiny steps for sure, but steps taken forward.

Looking around I note some of these parents and their children I’ve known since our pre-school days at La Playa preschool in Culver City.  And now here they were, part of the approximately 73 kids, grown and unrecognizable, participating in this camp, all waiting to get their chance to perform.  All are delighted to be in the spotlight, however long, however brief, but it is indeed a spotlight.  

Everyone takes his or her methodical time, because in the end you know Dolores Aguanno, the director and producer, is going to make this all work, somehow, someway.  

And watching during the course of a four week camp, toward the end, the chaos got a little more streamlined, the scaffolding and the lights started going up, there were things that resembled a set, the movements were more co-ordinated, dances were coming together, and the parents you’ve seen time and time again through the years watch with open amazement as their child is catching on.

Did I mention there were three separate casts? The Pigtails, Beehives, and The Ducktails and at the end of camp each cast got to perform in two performances. 

Hairspray is a musical that takes place in Baltimore, Maryland in 1962. It is the story of a plump, vivacious, teenage girl, Tracy Turnblad (Emily Greenstein), and her friend Penny (Brooke Rosenbloom). Every day, they rush home to see the Corney Collins (Jeremy Greenstein) Show much to the dismay of Tracy’s mother, Edna (Mica Williams).

Tracy finds out that the show is holding auditions for a dancer and Tracy begs her mother to let her audition. Tracy’s plus sized mother, who doesn’t go out of the house, doesn’t think it will be a good idea. But her father, Wilber (Misha Reiss) thinks that Tracy should follow her dreams and off Tracy goes.

While Tracy is at the audition, she bumps into Link Larkin (Ben Sanderson) and immediately falls in love. But when she auditions with Velma Von Tussle (Sabrina Lopez), the mean producer, Tussle, rejects Tracy, somewhat because of her looks, but mostly due to her size.  Tussel also rejects Little Inez (Sada Maryanov) because of her color without so much as an audition.

Later Tracy is sent to detention where she meets Seaweed J. Stubbs (Brandon Howard) who teachers her how to do some hip dance moves.  And when Corny Collins sees Tracy dancing at the Sophomore Hop, he invites her to be on the show.

Velma Von Tussle doesn’t like this one bit.  She wants her daughter, Amber (Isabella Veale), to be the star of the show and sets out to destroy Tracy.  But the ratings on the show are now up and everyone wants to be like Tracy.

Tracy is now a star and is courted by Mr. Pinkie, owner of Mr. Pinkey’s Hefty Hidewaway, to wear his oversized dresses. But in order to sign the contract, Tracy must get her mother out of the house to act as her agent. She does and “Welcome to the Sixties” is born.  

This leaves Amber, a real sosh, in a tizzy. And in a game of dodge ball, Amber knocks out Tracy (not sure how this can physically happen) and Link rushes to her side, along with Penny and Seaweed.  It is here that we first see Seaweed taking a liking to Penny.  And as Tracy comes to, Seaweed invites them over to dance, dance, dance.  

I had the privilege of seeing the Ducktails cast, the younger group of thespians, and I’ve got to tell you that one can’t help but get a little teary-eyed by all that was happening on stage. As a collective, they sounded fantastic.

Emily Greenstein as Tracy was as cute as a button with a very fine singing voice. Mica William did a very fine job as Edna. Misha Reiss had some nice moments as Wilbur. Brooke Rosenbloom was a very fine companion as Penny. Jules Henderson plays Prudy with aplomb.  

Isabella Veale did a very nice job as Amber and has a very fine voice as well. Sabrina Lopez plays Velma nicely.  Ben Sanderson had a couple of very nice songs as Link and Jeremy Greenstein did an excellent job as the square Corny.

Brandon Howard had his moments as Seaweed and Sada Maryanov had some very sympathetic moments as Little Inez.  Syrus Jones had a very nice dance number as Gilbert.

And I love Alexis Turner role as MM Maybelle. (MM is Motor Mouth)

Zoe Alamillo, Breanna Howard, Anya Nelson & Maya Calderon were Judine, Kamilah, and Shayna respectively as The Dynamites.

Izzy Kessner played Mr. Pinkie.   Arden Malsin was the Matron.  Lucas Calado was the Male Guard. Maya Calderon played Gilberta.  Anya Nelson was Lorraine.  Thistle Boosinger was the Gym Teacher and Principal and Sophia Martin-Straw was the Newscaster.

Filling the empty spots in the stage in some very nice numbers were “The Nicest Kids” and they were as follows: Eve Mott as Brad, Gwyneth Seelinger as Tammy, Cali Kimura as Francie, Arden Malsin as Sketch, Sunny MacGaffey as Shelly, Anna Kite as IQ, Jady Plesent as Brenda, and Harrison Anderson as Lou-Ann.

The nicest kids ensemble were Kate Bancroft, Happy Boosinger, Ashleigh Cogan, Brooke Cogan, Keira Cranach, Isabella Davis, Makena Davis, Dagny Hatch, Zoe Lynch, Holly MacGaffey, Sophia Martin-Straw, Makena Reiss, Audrey Rothenberg, and Elizabeth Thomas.

The R & B Ensemble was Evyn Armstrong, Mirabel Armstrong, Austin Carney, and Jade Lewis.

The Pit Singers were Lily Fanali, Carly Shiever, Joe-May Silvers, and Khamiya Terrell.

To put on a show of this magnitude requires a lot of help from crew, family and friends. And a few of those who participated are mentioned below:

Assistant Director for Ducktails Cast – Allegra Williams
Choreographers – Louie Chavez, Allegra Williams
Vocal Director – Zoe Petersen
Vocal Assistant – Carly Shiever
R & B Vocal Coach – Lyndraice Papa
Set Design – Dolores Aguanno, Joey Guthman
Lighting Design – Chris Clark Samuel Petersen
Stage Manager for Ducktails – Zoe Petersen
Costume Designer – Joey Guthman
Hair & Make-up Crew Head – Chloe Cohen
Email Communications – Laura Peterson (As well as a thousands other jobs.)

Everyone loves this show including the enormous cast that tried out for it.  There are two other casts that I did not see.  They are as follows:

Character               Pigtails                                Beehives

Tracy                     Katelyn Coon                       Jessie Grimaldo
Edna                      Max Lianos                          Carly Shiever
Wilbur                   Mika Stambler                      Keaton Asma
Penny                    Grace McFalls                       Lily Fanali
Prudy                    Mirabelle Baer                       Julia Rais
Amber                   Lindsay Gross                       Siena Neillis
Velma                   Angelina Cicchini                  Katy Engel
Link                      Ben Hilsberg                         Chris Clark
Corny                   Keaton Asma                         Nick Freedson
Seaweed               Austin Carney                       Nehi Thompson
Little Inez             Evyn Armstrong                   Breanna Howard
MM Maybelle      Mirabel Armstrong               Khamiya Terrell

The Dynamites:
Judine                   Joie-May Silvers                  Sabrina Lopez
Kamilah                Khamiya Terrell                   Joe-May Silvers
Shayna                  Alexis Turner                       Reese Schiffman

Mr. Pinkie               Misha Reiss                         Max Lianos
Matron                    Mica Williams                     Mica Williams
Male Guard             Lucas Calado                      Lucas Calado
Gilbert                     Syrus Jones                         Syrus Jones
Lorraine                   Jade Lewis                          Jade Lewis
Gym Teacher/Principal   Malia Reiss                 Carolina Robles
Newscaster                      Misha Reiss                Misha Reiss

The Council:  “Nicest Kids”
Brad                        Nick Freedson                      Keaton Asma
Tammy                    Dyllen Nellis                       Dyllen Nellis
Francie                    Mica Williams                     Mica Williams
Sketch                     Lucas Calado                       Lucas Calado
Shelly                      Clara Franz-Arau                Clara Franz-Arau
IQ                            Carly Shiever                      Ben Hilsberg
Branda                     Siena Nellis                        Lindsay Gross

The Council:  “Nicest Kids” Ensemble:
Sarah Daghigh, Vivian Daghigh, Kyra Lianos

R & B Ensenble:  Zoe Alamillo, Brandon Howards, Breanna Howard, Maya Calderon, Sada Maryanov

Ensemble:  Thistle Boosinger, Jeremy Greenstein, Misha Reiss.

dee-Lightful, the staff, and Dolores Aguanno deserve a hearty round of applause for giving everyone a chance to shine, a chance to learn, and a wonderful place to hone their craft.  And isn’t that what we need in Culver City.

Next on the agenda for dee-Lightful is “Once on This Island, Jr.” You cannot beat the price to see wonderful kids working their hearts out!

4 performances with 2 different casts:
Thursday, August 14 at 7:00 PM (Seashells cast)
Friday, August 15 at 7:00 PM (Coconuts cast)
Saturday, August 16 at 3:00 PM (Coconuts cast)
Saturday August 16 at 7:00 PM (Seashells cast)
Veteran's Memorial Auditorium
4117 Overland Avenue (corner of Culver Blvd)
Culver City, CA 90230
$10 all tickets (except CCUSD teachers & staff are free!)
Tickets available at the door only
Questions?  E-mail us at, or go to our website:

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