By JESSICA BOTELHO
NEW BEDFORD – With his production of the international hit “Hairspray,” Armand Marchand, executive producer and founder of New Bedford Festival Theatre, is hoping to tease the nostalgic side of theatergoers and transport them to 1962, a year when laughter, romance, music and dancing dominated the heart of every teenager.
The production will be an exclusive seven-performance New England summer 2012 presentation by New Bedford Festival Theatre and run at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford for two consecutive weekends this July.
“If you like ‘Grease,’ you’re going to love ‘Hairspray,’” Marchand said in a recent phone interview. “It’s a hot title and the music is very upbeat. It’s like going to a big party. “People will be dancing and moving in the aisles at The Z.”
Set in Baltimore, the family friendly musical comedy tangos through the life of Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with an even bigger heart, who hopes to dance on the Corny Collins T.V. Dance Show, which is based on the nationally televised show, “American Bandstand.”
After winning a spot to appear on the show, Tracy morphs from an outsider to a teen celebrity overnight and leads a revolt to dethrone the show’s Teen Queen, win the affection of the cutest guy, and help racially integrate the crowd without messing up her bob.
Infused with the era’s trendiest hairstyles, dance moves and music from a variation of genres, such as Rock ‘n’ Roll, Doo-wop and Motown, the plot speaks to diversity and the acceptance of individual differences, whether based on racial, ethnic, religious or even a person’s physical appearance, as the underdogs and stereotypical outcasts are depicted as heroes.
“If we can all dance together at the end of the day, it’s a wonderful thing,” Marchand said. “And I think a lot of people will come see the show because it’s the kind of music everyone grew up on. When I was growing up with “American Bandstand,” it made me happy, even on a day that was difficult.”
For Marchand, “Hairspray” gives him the opportunity to not only relive the era he grew up in, but also a chance to pay homage to longtime “American Bandstand” host Dick Clark, a television producer who promoted musical acts of all races and was also considered a pioneer in advancing the acceptance of racial diversity on his daily teen dance show. Sadly, Clark passed away on April 18 and the entire run of “Hairspray” will be dedicated to him.
“He was an amazing man and we feel that we owe him a tribute,” Marchand said. “I’ve watched his work for more than 50 years and I’m happy that we’re able to recognize what he’s done. He’s an American show business icon.”
Marchand said he was 14 when he started watching “American Bandstand” in the late 1950s. During that time, the show was on five days a week, from 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon until 5 p.m.
Regular dancers who appeared on the show, which was filmed in Philadelphia, were from South Philadelphia High School. Three of the boys later become famous singers, including Frankie Avalon, Fabian, and Bobby Rydell.
“One of the girls in my neighborhood used to say, ‘OK. After school tomorrow, everyone can come over to my house and we can dance in front of the T.V. with ‘American Bandstand’ on,’” Marchand said. “There’s no such show anymore.”
Audiences who purchase tickets to “Hairspray” can expect the professional settings and costumes, expert sound and lighting, as well as talented performers that New Bedford Festival Theatre is known for.
While rehearsals won’t begin until early July, Marchand is excited about the cast, particularly LauraMarie Rondinella, who will be playing the part of Tracy.
“She’s an Italian girl from Jersey City, New Jersey, and she’s perfect for the show,” he said. “She’s five feet tall and has a smile that lights up the entire room. When she sings, ‘Good Morning, Baltimore,’ your day is 10 times better. I was so glad when she accepted the contract because she’s adorable and has a great personality. She’s just like Tracy and wins everyone over in the show.”
As far as other roles, Ryan Overberg, a student at Boston Conservatory, will star as heartthrob Link Larkin, and Lizzy Palmer, who performed in a recent production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at the Court House Center for the Arts in West Kingston, Rhode Island, will star as Teen Queen Amber Von Tussle.
Further, Aaron Fried will play the part of Edna; John Costa will star as Wilber; and Bobby Sylvia will play Corny Collins.
The show will also feature a production staff of Director/Choreographer Michael Susko; Musical Director/Conductor Juan Rodriguez; and Artistic Director George Charbonneau. Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman, who wrote music for NBC’s hit show “Smash,” composed the music of “Hairspray.”
“I’m hoping they write a sequel and show the characters’ lives in college,” Marchand said. “But, that’s not up to me. I don’t write musicals; I produce them.”
Marchand, who taught English for 35 years at New Bedford High School, said he is thrilled to be celebrating Clark during the New Bedford Festival Theatre’s 23rd season with his first production of “Hairspray,” which opened on Broadway in 2002 and ran for more than eight years.
“Dick Clark, we are not going to ‘stop the beat,’” he said, referring to the play’s final number, “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” “You started it and we’re going to keep it going.”
Tickets for “Hairspray,” winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, are on sale at the Zeiterion’s box office, located at 684 Purchase Street, by calling 508-994-2900 or by visiting zeiterion.org.
Showings include July 20 and July 21 at 7:30 p.m.; July 22 at 2 p.m.; July 26 at 7 p.m.; July 27 and July 28 at 7:30 p.m.; and July 29 at 2 p.m.