Cabrillo stage unveils its biggest musical yetz
Hairspray” finally hits Cabrillo Stage this week and along with it comes veteran director Janie Scott, actor Tony Panighetti and newcomer Monica Turner.
The Broadway hit—which was inspired by the original John Waters movie—revolves around freedom and civil rights. At its core is Tracy Turnblad (Turner), who wants only one thing in the world: to dance on The Corny Collins Show on TV. She also wants to overcome the prejudices that come with living in Baltimore in the early 1960s.
Fellow actor Panighetti expresses how the themes of the musical are extremely prevalent in today’s culture: “American Idol is the big thing. It’s about watching the underdog take over and inspire America. Glee is all about misfits. This has become a musical generation; [one] where everyone is rooting for the underdog.”
Director and choreographer Scott previously worked with Panighetti in the 2002 production of “Some Like it Hot,” where Panighetti played Jerry and Daphne. It was his first time working with the Cabrillo Stage. This year, Scott returns to direct and choreograph while Panighetti has been cast as Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s mother.
This isn’t Panighetti’s first time playing a woman in Crocker Theater, though. In “Some Like it Hot,” he played a musician, Jerry, who disguises himself as a woman in order to join a female jazz band. But, he claims this role is much different: “Edna is not about a man playing effeminate and being wacky. That’s already in there if we have a man who is legitimately trying to be a woman.”
A male actor has traditionally performed the role of Edna—first, by drag queen artist Divine, in the original film, and in 2007 by John Travolta. For Panighetti, acting in a woman’s role bears a considerable amount of seriousness.
“We talked a lot about Mrs. Doubtfire and Tootsie,” he says, “where the beauty of it is in watching this person embody a woman and never really commenting on it.”
Scott chose Panighetti for that reason. “What I really wanted to see with Edna, that you oftentimes don’t see in productions because she’s always played as this big vaudeville character, is the other side to her,” she says. Scott recognizes the possible repercussions of not exposing this aspect of the character: “If we don’t get that in the vulnerability and sincere relationship between her and her daughter, then we don’t buy it and we don’t get into it. It just becomes this campy, weird thing.”
Ultimately, Scott is the driving force behind this formidable production, which includes a cast of 29 performing about two hours of music. Turner, who is under Scott’s wing for the first time, has been enjoying the overall experience. “[Scott] has a good balance between giving direction and allowing you the space to grow,” Turner says. She also explains that her time working at Cabrillo Stage has been, thus far, the utmost professional atmosphere. This skilled ambience is mostly due to the academic experience Scott brings with her as a professor in San Jose University’s School of Music and Dance, as well as her career experience in a number of Cabrillo Stage productions that include “Guys and Dolls,” “Honk,” and “Some Like it Hot.” Panighetti, who has worked with Scott before, says, “That’s what I love seeing; the process is always so wonderful, but the product gives it all a run for its money.”
Scott explains that the phenomenon of “Hairspray” is closely tied to its nostalgic power, one which reminds the director herself of listening to records as a child: “I would buy a record and wear it out,” she says. “I would play it over and over. I think that that’s the same appeal with this show. Play ‘Hairspray’ over and over; see it over and over. Because the music is infectious in that way, the style of dancing is infectious in that way, and these iconic characters are so entertaining and fun. It’s like playing those 45s over and over.”
“Hairspray” opens at 7:30 p.m. July 22 and runs through Aug. 14 at the Crocker Theater at Cabrillo Stage, 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos, 479-6154. Tickets are $28-$34. For more information, visit cabrillostage.com.