ANTIGONISH: Music of the Night took Antigonish back to the 1960s with the production of the eccentric musical Hairspray.
This was Music of the Night’s 17th production in the past 21 years. Hairspray tells a story about racial inequality, body image and entitlement through the use of 1960s dance music – from ballads, to doo-op, to blues, to folk and to rock n’ roll.
The production featured 10 performances; eight at Immaculata Hall in Antigonish, and what sets this apart from the many other shows ACT has staged, it featured two on the road shows, one at SAREC in Port Hawkesbury and the other at the Chedabucto Place in Guysborough.
“Brent thought it would be a great idea to the show to two nearby theatres, and that risk really worked out for us,” producer and stage manager Helen Bannerman said. “We were incredibly humbled and delighted that both SAREC and Chedabucto Place were completely sold out, and we were close to 100 per cent capacity on the others.”
Tracy Turnblad (Emma Forgeron), a quirky teenager from Baltimore in 1962, dreams of becoming a featured dancer on “The Corny Collins Show,” but her size is a problem. With her nerdy best friend, Penny Pingleton (Robyn Gale), Tracy goes to auditions but is cut down by nasty and conniving producer Velma von Tussle (Jenn Priddle) and her daughter Amber (Julia Shields).
Then, serving a detention at high school, Tracy learns some new dance moves from fellow detainee Seaweed (Mel Agravante), an African-American schoolmate.
Her dreams come true and she gets a spot on the show, becomes a local sensation overnight and captures the attention of teen heartthrob and classmate Link Larkin (Joel MacNeil). She uses her influence to fight for social change within the TV network and dethrone the reigning Teen Queen.
“The Corny Collins Show” features a monthly “Negro Day” instead of full integration. That offends Tracy’s pure heart and sense of justice, so she launches a diversity campaign that soon includes her parents, goofy dad Wilbur (Adam Cooke) and semi-agoraphobic mom Edna (Danielle Richard).
This show features lots of terrific performances: Cooke as the supportive jokester who owns the Har-De-Har Hut; Luke Kell as an animated Corny Collins; Agravante and Gale, both voice majors at StFX, as Seaweed and Pingleton; Priddle and Shields as the narcissistic, bullying and racist mother-daughter duo, and Kelsey Jones, who plays “Negro Day” host and record store owner Motormouth Mabel, who sang a gospel-tinged song, “I Know Where I’ve Been,” at the show’s climax.
With a full cast of 85 – 28 were children, 23 were junior and high school students, there were four Strait regional centre for education teachers in the cast and two in the pit band, 21 StFX students and nine adult community members, with ages ranging from six to 65.
From Forgeron’s first moment on stage in the opening number “Good Morning Baltimore” to the energy-filled finale “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” she owned the stage and the audience love her.
“Every person whoever wants to do musical theatre has their dream role in mind and she told us that Tracey was hers and she got it,” Helen said about Forgeron. “When we auditioned her, she was in the second round of auditions, and it was very clear that she was the perfect person for this role.”
The second audition was in Guysborough and since Forgeron couldn’t make the two auditions in Antigonish, she got her university friend to drive her to Guysborough, which Bannerman said speaks to her commitment and her fortitude to get something done.
Music of the Night’s production of Hairspray was directed by Jenn Priddle, produced by Helen Bannerman, the music was directed by Brent Bannerman, and it was choreographed by Liliona Quarmyne.
Brent started Music of the Night in 1997 as a fundraiser for the high school band program he was teaching, to provide a theatre experience for youth and adults.
This year’s Music of the Night production was dedicated to Lionel “Buddy” Doucette and Jack and Judy O’Donnell, who were all connected with the arts in Antigonish and terribly missed; with opening night falling on the one-year anniversary of Doucette’s passing.