The Hippo


May 30, 2020








Members of the “nicest kids in town,” who perform in Hairspray at the Palace Theatre. Courtesy photo.


Where: The Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester
When: Opening weekend times are Friday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 4, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, March 5, at 2 p.m.; show runs through March 26
Admission: $25 to $45
Contact:, 668-5588

Feel-good show
Palace Theatre gets dancing with Hairspray

By Kelly Sennott

 Palace Theatre Artistic Director Carl Rajotte thinks Hairspray is exactly what theater audiences need right now. 

“I think it’s very relevant to the climate of the country,” Rajotte said between rehearsals last week. “It’s very poignant, yet at the same time extremely entertaining and funny. It’s a great time for this perfect message.”
Hairspray, which is up March 3 through March 26, is set in Baltimore during the 1960s and follows a plus-sized teen, Tracy Turnblad, who dreams of dancing on the The Corny Collins Show (based on the real-life The Buddy Deane Show), a teen TV program featuring local dancers. She gets her wish when a Corny Collins regular named Brenda gets pregnant and has to leave, and Tracy becomes an instant TV celebrity. She uses her new fame to advocate for integration in the racially segregated show.
It was a film by John Waters first in 1988 and moved to Broadway in 2002, with a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, respectively. It won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and was adapted into a musical film in 2007. 
Rajotte and Palace CEO Peter Ramsey knew they wanted to produce Hairspray again after its successful 2011 premiere on the Manchester stage. 
“I always like to remount shows we’ve done in the past because I can usually say we’re at a different place now than we were then. The production value is better. Everything is better,” Rajotte said. “But when we decided to do this one, I actually got a little nervous because I think that the last production we did was really, really good.”
Plus, Hairspray is hard to put on.
“This show is way bigger and harder than it seems when you’re watching it. I remember the first time doing this, when I finally finished writing my directions in the script, I closed it, took a big breath, and I actually started crying. I didn’t know why! But it just felt like this big release,” Rajotte said. 
The 2011 take featured solid pastel colors — pinks, blues, greens — but this time, the inspiration is Baltimore, which Rajotte knows well from his days living nearby in in Lancaster, Pa. Onstage is a Maryland neighborhood with buildings, storefronts and streets, with larger units moving on and off as the story requires. Colors are bright, and wigs are large, courtesy of costume artist Jessica Moryl. Choreography contains flavors from old TV shows like Soul Train and American Bandstand.
“Last time, I studied the original production quite a bit. I learned from that and then sort of made it my own, but didn’t stray far from it,” Rajotte said. “But I looked at those shows for research, and saw they had some really fantastic dancers. … So I decided to push myself, choreography-wise.”
In the lead role is Meghan Quinn, the theater’s youth administrator and company manager, who frequently performs in stand-out roles on the Palace stage. As a whole, the cast is pretty New Hampshire-heavy, with Marc Willis, Tony Clements, Andrew Barret Cox and Missy Clayton rounding out the mix. For most productions, Rajotte looks for singers who move well, but this 25-member cast needed to be made of dancers who could sing.
“I got a Snapchat from the cast house last night at midnight. They had pushed the dining room tables against the wall and were practicing,” Rajotte said.
Which is isn’t usual, said Clayton, who grew up performing with the Queen City theater and plays Brenda.
“[The cast house] is where we do most of our work. … The rehearsal process is so short. It’s really just go, go go. Then it’s our job to go home and do our homework and make sure we’ve really, really got it for the next day,” said Clayton, who describes the production as a high-energy, feel-good show. “It’s an easy show to come, relax and just know you’re going to have a good time.”

®2020 Hippo Press. site by wedu