‘Hairspray’ opens at EPAC July 20

By on July 12, 2017

Artistic Director Ed Fernandez was tasked with a tough decision. After being unable to cast a full barbershop quartet for the planned production of “The Music Man,” Fernandez had to make a decision to keep up with EPAC standards or simply follow the plan and put on a show. Fernandez knew he had to keep up standards.

“Quality is very important at EPAC … and we just couldn’t find an older male ensemble,” said Fernandez after he made the decision to scrap “The Music Man” and replace the July musical offering with “Hairspray.”

Fernandez started a detailed talent search for “The Music Man” cast in January, to no avail. He then addressed the EPAC board of directors and the decision was finalized.

“It’s an agonizing decision. It’s not a happy decision to come to,” said Fernandez. “Everybody in the cast tried. The timing was just bad.”

It turns out much of the area’s barbershop talent needed for the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical was unavailable this spring and summer. Many local singers were traveling to Las Vegas for the Barbershop Harmony Society’s International gathering in early July.

“A lot of the guys were [planning to be] in Vegas this summer,” said Fernandez. “It was a perfect storm…When we do shows the timing has to be perfect and the timing was not perfect. Things like this convention throw things off.”

Keeping in mind show sponsors, EPAC searched for a family friendly show to fill the open slot. Having already purchased the rights to perform “The Music Man,” EPAC needed to choose a show from the same distributor or wind up paying more and potentially going over budget even before thinking about a new cast.

“We also had to get something we thought people would want to be in at this point,” said Fernandez. “There were all these parameters and we [still] needed to get something that didn’t depend on a large, large male ensemble like ‘The Music Man.’”

Enter “Hairspray,” the Broadway-hit based on the 1988 film by director/artist John Waters. Described as a “sweet, infinitely spirited, bubblegum-flavored confection” of theatre by Charles Isherwood of Variety magazine, “Hairspray” tells the tale of Tracy Turnblad and her dream to be on a local TV dance program. Both the EPAC board and the production team were “well versed” and familiar with the show, said Fernandez.

Casting for EPAC’s 2017 rendition of “Hairspray” began immediately after Fernandez made the decision to go with the show. Ali Fleming of Mount Joy landed the lead role of Turnblad.

EPAC straddles the line between regional and community theatre; the goal is to create professional caliber productions by utilizing local resources. It is a task the theatre has been successful with for years; however, there are the occasional bumps in the road.

“Being a community theater, we are beholden to our volunteer acting base,” said Fernandez. “Most community theatres do not have the subscription base we do. We are really happy we can operate like a regional theater. The only caveat we have is we are beholden to our community base, especially when it comes to actors.”

EPAC has brought in a few professional, Equity actors over the years, with the most recent and memorable occurrence being Bryon Smith in 2015’s “Shrek.”

“The Music Man” is not the first show to be canceled due to a lack of acting participants. In the past, EPAC canceled Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” and the classic “The Threepenny Opera” due to a lack of actors for leading roles.

“We can program a show, but if we can’t cast it we get into a situation where we have to ask, ‘what do we do?’” said Fernandez.

Sometimes the gap is generational. Most current musicals appeal to a younger audience and contain younger actors. Shows like “Rent,” “Hair,” and “American Idiot” are easy to fill.

“Those shows are easier to cast because they excite younger people,” said Fernandez. “Older ensemble members, especially males, are scarce.”

The upcoming performance will feature EPAC regular Bob Checchia as Wilbur Turnblad and Fernandez himself as Edna Turnblad. This will be the first time EPAC has staged “Hairspray.”

“Hairspray” is the winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The show opens Thursday, July 20 and runs Thursdays and weekends through Aug. 5.

Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at somepromcu@gmail.com and facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.

One Comment

  1. Darla Heckman

    July 22, 2017 at 11:28 pm


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