In the early 1960s, the only Black and white combination on most television shows came from the lack of color on the screens. There was very little mixing of races in TV programming.
That is what the musical “Hairspray” is all about. It tells us how just a few people can change the course of history in racial relations.
It was a time of change, as evidenced in “Hairspray,” the current production on stage at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre. A show about breaking boundaries, it’s set in 1962, when historic change was everywhere. It’s also the perfect show for a Black History Month presentation.
Trendsetter Tracy Turnblad (played by Jill Sullivan), the heroine of the Broadway hit, calls integration “the new frontier” and is eager to be a part of it.
It was the year Jackie Robinson became the first Black inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and James Meredith became the first Black to enroll in the University of Mississippi – causing President John F. Kennedy to send 5,000 federal troops due to the rioting that broke out.
“There’s a dream in the future; there’s a struggle we have yet to win,” sings Motormouth Maybelle, the African-American matriarch in “Hairspray,” echoing the words of Martin Luther King Jr. Maybelle is played by Angela Birchett making her Beef & Boards debut.
It’s a struggle that young Turnblad faces head-on, as she goes to great lengths to integrate the Corny Collins Show, a television dance program she loves.
Although Turnblad is white, she’s overweight and mocked for trying to become a dancer on the show. Not able to fit the mold of the program’s existing “nicest kids in town,” Turnblad – literally – broadens the stereotype, then seeks to redefine it.
Through her intercultural friendships, Turnblad learns new dance moves from her African-American friends that help her earn a spot on the program. “Why can’t we all dance together like this on TV,” Turnblad asks – before deciding to make it happen.
She leads a march seeking integration on the television station’s program, which sends her to jail. Undeterred, Turnblad then leads an interracial dance on the air during the Corny Collins Show that she announces “is now and forever more officially integrated!”
To the cheers that follow, Corny Collins himself declares: “America look up! Here’s history right before your eyes. Television will never be the same.”
The happy ending to the show signals a beginning in a new era, as sung by Motormouth Maybelle: “Tomorrow is a brand new day, and it don’t know white from Black.”
Much has changed since the civil rights movement began. Some things have yet to. In the end, “Hairspray” reminds everyone, “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”
The youngest cast member in “Hairspray” is embracing the opportunity to shine in a rare supporting role for an African-American girl in a Broadway show.
Indianapolis’ own Lindsay Porter is just 11 years old, but she performs with a maturity far above her age.
Here’s what she says about herself:
“I am at the top of my class,” the fifth-grader at Challenge Foundation Academy said proudly. “I have been on the honor roll my entire school career and received many academic awards. I was recently nominated to represent my school for the Ben Carson scholarship contest.”
That’s not all.
Lindsay Porter shines on stage—and off
“I was reading by age 3, had written five short children’s stories by the age of 7 that I want to publish,” she added. “I dance, sing and model. And I love to help people.”
Another love Lindsay has is that of performing. It started simply enough.
“My mom (Tiffany Porter) said when I was 3 years old, I told her I wanted to be on ‘Barney.’ So I started practicing singing and dancing,” Lindsay said. “I auditioned for my first play, ‘The Little Mermaid,’ at the age of 5. Because of my personality, they made me the shining seahorse. Since then, I have not stopped performing.”
In fact, since that first production, she has performed in 11 shows around the Indianapolis area – including “The Wizard of Oz” and “Annie” at Beef & Boards.
Where: Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, 9301 N. Michigan Rd.
When: Playing now through March 27 on various dates.
Tickets: Call B&B box office at (317) 872-9664 between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays. Prices range from $36 to $59 and include a dinner buffet.
More information: Visit B&B web site at www.beefandboards.com.
Jill Sullivan as Tracy Turnblad
Dan Dowling Jr. as Edna Turnblad
Angela Birchett as Motormouth Maybelle
Lindsay Porter as Little Inez
Jarvis B. Manning Jr. as Seaweed J. Stubbs
Teanna Berry, Shelese Franklin and Gnomi Gre as the Dynamites
Eddie Currie – director
Ron Morgan – choreographer
Terry Woods – musical director
Jill Kelly – costumer
Next Show: Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun” opens March 31 and runs through May 8.