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DHS lands rights to perform Hairspray

Demopolis High School will become one of the first high schools in Alabama to perform the acclaimed Broadway musical Hairspray when it opens its new auditorium next spring.

The acquisition of the rights to the musical, which gained cinematic regards in 2007 when New Line Cinemas released it as a major motion picture, signifies a major coup for the Demopolis High School drama department.

“It’s tremendous for us because it just shows that we’re getting to the point that we have the ability to pursue bigger shows,” DHS drama instructor Jody White said. “It is an honor to know that (Music Theater International) considers us to be a worthy enough school to do this show.”

MTI, the company which controls and distributes the rights to Hairspray selected DHS as a candidate to do the show.

“when a show has been on Broadway for so long, they won’t release the rights for a while after it has been off Broadway,” White explained. “They are restrictive on amateur rights.”

In order to obtain the rights, DHS had to put together a proposal for MTI that offered reasons the school would be adequate for the production.

“We feel like it is really a perfect musical for our school because of the way Hairspray addresses, in a really fun way, social injustice,” White said. “Because we are an integrated school, this show really illustrates how far we have come. I think DHS is the perfect place to do this because of how beautifully integration works in our school system. A lot of our students have parents that have lived this.”

The 1988 musical, written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, is set in 1962 Baltimore and revolves around the main character’s quest to integrate a popular teen dance show.

The nature of the show creates another interesting turn for the DHS drama department, which will have to alter one of its key casting policies in selecting roles for the production.

“We have a policy here called blind casting where you cast people regardless of race,” White said. “For instance, we did the Diary of Anne Frank this fall and we cast a black girl as Anne Frank.”

Given the specific nature of the story, DHS will have to ignore its blind casting policy. However, Harispray does offer another unique casting crossover in that the role of Edna Turnblad, the mother of the female lead character, is always played by a male actor. In the film version, the role was portrayed by John Travolta.

“(Hairspray) is insanely popular with kids,” White said. “We had a special meeting at break the other day to announce that we got (the rights to the musical). They were very excited.”

White said Hairspray’s status as the first production in the new auditorium will lead to more open auditions.

“With Hairspray, because it is the first production in our new facility, we’re going to open auditions to our alum,” White said.

The musical is planned for spring and will follow the school’s fall production of Godspell, a Stephen Schwartz musical.

“We’re going to have to do that one in the gym because the auditorium will be under construction,” White said of Godspell, a musical retelling of Matthew’s account of the gospel. “The choir is going to be helping us with that one as well.

Godspell is slated to run Oct. 20, 21, 23 and 24. Hairspray is scheduled to run from March 30 through April 3.