Although it takes place during the civil rights era, the musical Hairspray has a message that resonates in the present day, says Headliners artistic director Manda Chelmak.
The 2002 musical takes place in early ’60s Baltimore and follows overweight teenager Tracy Turnblad who gets a part on a segregated TV dance show, becomes an overnight sensation and successfully advocates for the program’s integration.
“I think it’s an important time to revisit that topic of racism and cultural division,” Chelmak said, adding, “We need a reminder this topic isn’t so weird to cover right now.”
On Thursday, May 23, Chelmak is directing the Headliners production of Hairspray Jr., the condensed version of the musical, at the Port Theatre. Aside from their evening performance, the cast will also perform a private matinée for schools.
Even though the musical ends with the breaking down of racial barriers, the actors agree that racism is a persistent problem worth discussing.
Katie Whalen, 13, who plays Seaweed J. Stubbs, love interest of Tracy’s best friend Penny, said that it’s important to recognize that people continue to face prejudice and exclusion based on their appearance.
“They’ll ignore what happened in the past and they’ll just act like it never happened at all … so I think it’s important for people to know that it still does happen,” she said.
The production is in partnership with the Port Theatre. While some cast members have performed at the venue in the past, for others, including 12-year-old Jade McConville, who plays Penny, it will be a new experience.
“[I’m] really, really excited because I’ve never been in a theatre that big,” she said. “They’re usually small theatres. [It’s] really cool because I have a main role this time so I can do it in a big theatre.”
WHAT’S ON … Headliners presents Hairspray Jr. at the Port Theatre, 125 Front St., on Thursday, May 23 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $12.