‘Hairspray’ stars male performers in gender-bending roles
July 26, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
“Hairspray” long ago earned a reputation for camp by casting a man in drag as mammoth matriarch Edna Turnblad.
The soon-to-open production at Village Theatre offers another gender bender: a male performer cast as a female character, in addition to Edna.
KIDSTAGE performers present “Hairspray” as a SummerStock production from July 30 to Aug. 7.
Andrew Gryniewicz, 15, a Sammamish Plateau resident and Bishop Blanchet High School student, stars as Edna, and Sheady Manning-Bruce, 17, a Renton resident and Liberty High School student, stars as smooth-as-silk television hostess Motormouth Maybelle.
Edna originated as a drag role. The drag queen Divine starred as Edna in director John Waters’ 1988 film and John Travolta donned a dress for the 2007 film musical.
The hefty heroine in the musical, Tracy Turnblad, is determined to sashay and shimmy on “The Corny Collins Show” — a segregated dance program in Baltimore — against unfavorable odds and Edna’s disapproval.
Kathryn Van Meter, “Hairspray” co-director and choreographer, adjusted the formula and cast a male performer as Motormouth, too.
The energy and sass Manning-Bruce unleashed during the audition tempted Van Meter to cast the actor in a less conventional role.
“He came in and he did his song and his monologue,” she recalled. “He finished and I just looked at the team and said, ‘I think we should call him back for Motormouth.’”
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Gryniewicz and Manning-Bruce each stand 6 feet, 1 inch tall. The scale presents challenges as the actors dance across the stage in heels.
“I think the biggest challenge with playing a woman, just in general, is knowing that you’re not a man. You can’t just tromp around everywhere,” Manning-Bruce said. “Especially in the ’60s, there was a very specific way that Motormouth walked. She was a large black woman, so she would always have her hand on her hip. She would sway a lot.”
Gryniewicz received callbacks for Edna and Wilbur Turnblad, and accepted the Edna role after answering a call from Village Theatre in a driver’s ed class.
“In casting both the Edna and the Wilbur, we very much wanted to cast the kids that understood the heart of those characters, as opposed to an actor for Edna who would just get the jokes,” Van Meter said.
Gryniewicz adds padding on the stomach, hips and thighs to change from thin teenager to ample Edna. The transformation includes makeup to redefine the jaw line and eyebrows, plus ersatz eyelashes — “That was a new one for me,” Gryniewicz observed — and, atop the ensemble, a housecoat and muumuu.
“It’s odd. I’m like, ‘OK, I’m playing a woman. What is this?’” he said. “It’s really exciting to completely transform.”
Early in the production process, Van Meter screened a documentary about school integration in the civil rights era and the Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech for the 46-member cast.
“‘Hairspray’ is this sort of bubblegum comedy, which I love, but there is this sort of undercurrent of nasty,” she said. “I didn’t want to shy away from that. I wanted to respect the history of the piece and respect of what’s going on for the black characters in the play and the bravery that Tracy has.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.