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IN THE NEWS: MSDA presents ‘Hairspray’ starting Thurs. 2/28

By KATHY SHWIFF Editor, The Progress

CALDWELL – Although “Hairspray” is set in 1960s Baltimore, the issues raised in the musical are relevant to students at Mount Saint Dominic Academy today, said the director and one of its lead actors in the Catholic school’s spring musical.

Jensyn Modero, director/choreographer of “Hairspray,” said she chose the musical because she likes female-driven narratives.

“I think the message is great. I think inclusivity is imperative in today’s world and tolerance. And the show teaches the audience, allows them to have a look at the injustices in the world with honey rather than vinegar,” said Modero, who teaches theater and musical theater at Rahway High School and has worked on musicals at the Mount for the past 10 years.

She said “Hairspray,” about a teenager who tries to integrate a local television dance show, has the most racially diverse cast of any show at the Mount.

As a modern musical, “Hairspray” is nonstop, with about 25 musical numbers.

“The students meet the expectations that are set. We don’t dumb it down,” said Modero, who estimated that nearly a third of the student body is involved in the show.

Most of the leading roles went to seniors; many of them have been in the fall play and spring musical in each of their four years at the high school.

The role of Edna Turnblad is played by a male as it was in the Broadway version.

Junior Shaika Marcelin is playing Motormouth Maybelle, a loving mother, activist and adviser to Tracy Turnblad, the lead character.

She said Tracy has a goal and she goes for it. “I really like that a lot.”

The cast spent some time reading and talking about the civil rights movement in the 1960s, she noted.

By playing Motormouth Maybelle, Shaika “learned to know myself and just go out there and be strong,” she said.

Senior Kiana Carbone plays Tracy, one of her favorite musical characters. “She was someone like me. She was small, she was chubby, she could dance.”

Kiana is in every scene except one. During that time offstage, she has about seven minutes to change her costume, compared with 20 to 30 seconds for other changes, when she is assisted by three to four girls.

While playing Tracy requires physical stamina, that was not as difficult as “becoming Tracy,” said Kiana, who takes dance classes six days a week at the Next Step School of Dance in Lyndhurst. She takes part in three to four dance competitions a year in various styles and numbers ranging from a solo to a line dance of 30 or more people.

Kiana plans to major in business and minor in theater at Villanova University and hopes to find a job combining the two areas, such as in theater management. She said her role in “Hairspray” has made her a bit more of an optimist because “(Tracy) just loves everyone and everything. … She’s such an optimist that it’s made me be a little more reflective in my life of how I could be a little more optimistic, how she is.”

“Hairspray” has 45 cast members and 20 students on the stage crew. Because the Mount is a girls school, the 10 boys in the cast were recruited from a number of area schools.

Before auditions, interested students took part in a November workshop, where they learned some of the music and choreography. Auditions were in early December, and rehearsals were held Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays for the past three months.

Cast members and their families helped build and paint the set on recent Saturdays.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28; Friday, March 1; and Saturday, March 2 and at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 3 in the Doris M. Byrne Performing Arts Center.

Advance tickets cost $16 for adults and $13 for students and senior citizens. They are available online at MSDA.booktix.com.

Click here to read the article in The Progress.

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