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Message of acceptance behind musical veneer

Tosa East Players present light-hearted, socially-conscious musical 'Hairspray'

Tracy (Rose Spice-Kopischke, left), Wilbur (Ian Cline) and Edna (Beau Allison) in the Wauwatosa East production of "Hairspray"

Tracy (Rose Spice-Kopischke, left), Wilbur (Ian Cline) and Edna (Beau Allison) in the Wauwatosa East production of "Hairspray" Photo By C.T. Kruger

April 2, 2013

The Tosa East Players are excited to put on the musical "Hairspray" for two reasons: nobody dies in the play and its high energy gives them an extra layer of challenge.

After four years of tragedies including "Phantom of the Opera," "Aida" and "Spitfire Grill," the cast and crew are ready for a breath of fresh air complete with big hair and over-the-top song and dance numbers that accompany the feel-good musical slated to open at 7 p.m. April 12.

Acceptance is the message

The story follows Tracy, an overweight teenager with over-the-top hair as she tries to gain fame via the local teenage dance show. On her journey, Tracy confronts racism, conformity and self-image while keeping everything moving with song and dance.

"Tracey is a really good role model for kids today because we see all these airbrushed, super-skinny supermodels in magazines and on TV and Tracey doesn't change herself to fit in," said Rose Spice-Kopischke, who plays Tracy. "She gains acceptance for who she is and I think that's really important for people."

Tracy's mother Edna, an overweight woman, is traditionally played by a man dressed in drag. That man is East senior Beau Allison, who said his biggest concern about appearing on stage in a dress was that he had to wear a fat suit.

"I'm not nervous anymore," he said. "I still am a little bit embarrassed that I have to come out here with double D breasts, a big stomach and a big butt, but I think that's Edna. That's the character. That's who I'm supposed to be. It's not about me."

Theater Director Thomas Thaney said that there was a big push to incorporate more black students into the cast and crew with "Hairspray." He added that the black turnout was better than anticipated.

He wanted "Aida," last year's production, to be the bridge to the black student population, but found "Hairspray" to be more appealing. Out of the 47-member cast, 15 are black.

Not only did "Hairspray" bring in more black students, but it set records for number of auditions in recent memory. Over 100 students auditioned for parts in cast and crew for the show. Thaney attributed the large pull to the popularity of the movie-turned-musical-turned-movie.

Hard work, hard play

With only a handful of days left to prepare, the cast and crew are shifting themselves into overdrive to make "Hairspray" a success. Adding choreography has only made the students work harder in preparation.

"It's a challenge we really haven't faced in the last four years," Spice-Kopischke said. "Some shows have had dancing and had some really talented singing but not both at the same time. This is an extra layer of challenge that I really enjoy."

Her feelings were shared by other cast members, the director and even tech crews. They all gave themselves extra challenges but felt undaunted and even accepting of the extra work. Many said that the lighthearted nature of the show gave them a sense of ease and lightness to their work.

Although they have had some setbacks including set pieces breaking, Siena Muehlfeld of the tech crew said this has been the least stressful show she worked on in her four years of high school. She added that although she and other members can put in over eight hours of extra work per day, they are working in a rather carefree environment.

Some students are even practicing during spring break. No formal rehearsals will be held, but some will spend nearly half their break preparing.

"I've always loved telling stories and becoming a character to tell stories is so much fun," Spice-Kopischke said. "This story particularly is so dear to me and it's such a wonderful story. It's such a joy, such an honor."

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