Editor's Note: This is the sixth installment of The Mom Review, a summer-long series of reviews of family-friendly theater, dance, art exhibits, etc., by iBerkshires Community Editor Rebecca Dravis and her 8-year-old daughter, Noelle, who hope to give you some ideas for summer family fun.
How did I get 39 years into life without knowing the story of "Hairspray"?
I'm glad Noelle only had to go eight and a half, and I'm glad her first experience with it was Barrington Stage Company's Youth Theatre production of "Hairspray Jr."
Based on the film and Tony Award-winning stage musical of the same name, "Hairspray Jr." features the popular songs “You Can’t Stop the Beat” and “Good Morning Baltimore.” Filled with energetic dance numbers and unique characters, "Hairspray Jr." follows spunky plus-sized teen Tracy Turnblad as she pursues her dream of dancing on national television and navigates the racial tensions and stereotypes of the 1960s. Shows continue through Sunday, Aug. 10 at the Berkshire Museum: Wednesday and Thursday at 2 and 7 p.m., Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 for youths and $16 for adults.
Because I've never seen the original, I don't know how much the "junior" makes it a more family-friendly experience.
Kids under 5 are not allowed into this production, which makes sense, as it is a serious topic underneath the amazing energy of these teenage performers. At 8, Noelle had a hard time grasping the underlying issue of racism, though she absolutely loved the music, costumes and set.
The evening we saw this performance, it was followed by a community talk-back on race. We stayed for a little bit of that, but it was late and, again, the subject matter was over Noelle's head. What was most interesting, though, was the 30-minute car ride home and finding out just how over her head it was.
I'm sure it's not the same for all 8-year-olds. I'm sure there are children who have felt the sting of discrimination. But the fact that my daughter was genuinely puzzled by (a) how mean the girls were to the plump Tracy and (b) why black and white kids couldn't dance together made me hopeful that every generation becomes a little more tolerant to differences in shape, size, skin color, disabilities and more.
Yes, we live in Berkshire County, not known for its rampant multiculturalism. And yes, we personally live in Williamstown, a small town of mostly white people. So maybe it's easy for me to feel optimistic. But I'm happy to be a positive influence on my daughter as she grows up and starts to face these issues more directly. I'm happy to be able to say, "Some people thought those kids couldn't dance together because some had light skin and some had dark skin. Isn't that silly?"
During the talkback, the teens seemed more optimistic about the current state of race relations than the older people on stage. That sounds about right. Change is slow and all we can do is work toward a better future, one generation at a time, one community at a time and one family at a time.
The whole idea of "Hairspray" was puzzling to my 8-year-old. I hope in 10 years, or 20 years, the premise will be even more puzzling to children who watch it. Thank you, Barrington Stage, for a wonderful evening and giving us food for thought. And to those amazing teenage actors ... bravo!
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