Curtis Reed is a very busy man in Nashville’s theatre community. It seems he’s always got some new project happening. The latest proof comes in his double-duty as director and choreographer for Expression City‘s Performing Arts Program’s inaugural stage production of “Hairspray” onstage at Holy Trinity Community Church (6727 Charlotte Pike). The show will open it’s very limited single weekend run on Friday, January 13, with evening shows Friday and Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and a final Sunday matinee at 3p.m. on the 15th.
Earlier this week I had an opportunity to chat with Curtis, as well as four members of Expression City’s “Hairspray” for another round of Rapid Fire 20 Q before they welcome us to the 60s in the timeless Tony-winning musical.
Rapid Fire with Curtis Reed, director/choreographer, Expression City’s “Hairspray”
JONATHAN PINKERTON: From what I understand, this is the inaugural theatre production from Expression City’s Performing Arts Program. Can you tell me a little about the company?
CURTIS REED: Expression City Arts & Fitness is a new Performing Arts Studio in the Cool Springs/ Brentwood Area that offers dance classes for both youths and adults, Circus classes like aerial silks, lyra, stilt dancing and juggling just to name a few, voice and music classes, acting classes, and a full Musical Theatre Program, which “Hairspray” is part of. In fact, “Hairspray” has 30 students from the Musical Theatre Program performing alongside some of the best in the biz. Plans for a full Performing Arts School are in place and full semesters will be offered to home schooled students and anyone else that wishes to take part in a 2 to 4 year program concentrating on the performing arts starting in July of 2017. I very much am looking forward to the future of Expression City and what it has to offer Nashville.
JP: What is it about “Hairspray” that you find most appealing as a director?
CURTIS REED: As a Director, I love working with a show that has a bit of spectacle; something that lends itself to what we would consider big budget projects for Broadway or has that Vegas quality and “Hairspray” is all of that. I also love being able to Direct AND Choreograph a show simultaneously because that allows scenes and action to flow seamlessly into large scale dance numbers. And if you know the story of “Hairspray”, you know there aren’t many musical numbers in this show that aren’t centered around a large dance break or high energy moves while the cast is singing their hearts out.
JP: As you mentioned, you’re also serving as the show’s choreographer. Does having the show set in the sixties seem limiting to you as a choreographer, or limitless?
CURTIS REED: While I want to stay true to the style of the 1960’s and some of the iconic dances that came from that era, what people don’t realize is, as a choreographer for a musical, you are always limitless because a musical, regardless of what time period it may be set in, is timeless in its ability to suspend disbelief and make dreams come true. So with my choreography, you will quickly see what is taken from the time period, what is now affectionately called by my cast as “Curtis-ograhy” and what is a little bit of this style mixed with that. It is all unique, all very fast paced, all appropriate to the material and subject matter, and this cast does a beautiful job of meeting the challenge and dancing their butts off!
JP: Among your adult cast members, you’ve got some of Nashville’s best and most popular actors. How excited are you to work with everyone in this show?
CURTIS REED: I think it is safe to say that every professional adult that was cast in this show, I have either had the pleasure of working with previously, and/or have developed a great friendship with. And I was elated when they came out to audition because they trusted in me and in my vision. That is extremely touching and I am forever grateful to them all. This cast packs some serious talent. Jenny Norris Light embodies Velma so well, and i have never heard another Velma belt like she can! Santayana Harris is so beautiful and her voice will make you weep when she sings her torch song, “I Know Where I’ve Been”. Brian Best is one of the great comedic actors in this town and i think he is fitting into Edna’s heels quite well! Greg Frey, Artist Director of Gaslight Dinner Theater is so charming and heart-warming as Tracy’s Dad, Wilbur. Kate Adams Kramer is one of the best! She can belt, she can split your sides with laughter and then she can slap some tap shoes on and wow you with her dancing! Cameron Gilliam is always charismatic and charming so it was a perfect fit as Corny Collins. Howard Snyder is a ball of energy and that is ever-present when he comes out as Mr. Pinky. Gerold Oliver has that silky smooth voice that you think of when you think of Seaweed and the boy can move! And I haven’t even mentioned the crazy talented Adult ensemble or the students who have lead roles that are going to be forces to be reckoned with as they get older. I am so humbled and thankful to be surrounded by such talent in this cast!
Rapid Fire with Brian Best, Edna Turnblad in Expression City’s “Hairspray”
JP: Alright, Brian, you’ve got big shoes…and other garments to fill as Edna, with the role having famously been played, first by Divine in the original ’77 John Waters cult classic movie, then by Harvey Fierstein in his 2002 Tony-winning musical theatre turn and perhaps more mainstream by John Travolta in the 2007 musical movie adaptation. Of the three previous Edna’s who’s would you say your portrayal is most like?
BRIAN BEST: They definitely are big garments to fill! I remember watching the movie with Divine, but fell in love with the show listening to Harvey in the recording. I never saw Harvey live, but enjoyed John Travolta in the movie and was so excited to see Harvey…FINALLY…even if only on the small screen. It is hard to say which one my portrayal is most like because they are all such unique actors who ALL have made names for themselves in different arenas. I would say my version pulls some of the BEST aspects of all three: Divine’s larger than life personality, Harvey’s sassy Milton Berle-like vaudeville timing and the more polished vocal sound that John Travolta brought to the character. I liked the way Travolta pronounced some of his words, so I am using some of those pronunciations. BUT, I do try to bring something unique to it as well to make the character mine.
JP: At what point in the transformation into Edna do you feel you become the character?
BRIAN BEST: I HOPE I become the character the moment I take the stage. Edna is a fantastic character to play because she evolves throughout the show. She starts as a normal everyday Mom…well as normal as a Mom played by a man can be! But as the show goes on, she realizes she is so much more. When I go through the makeover at Mr. Pinky’s, I feel like I am becoming a new person. At the end of the show, her dreams are realized. I am realizing my dreams of being onstage doing musical theatre. I am so excited to have the chance to play this part because I can relate to her character and journey!
JP: As I mentioned when chatting with Curtis, this is Expression City’s first-ever musical production. How’s it going for a debut theatre company’s first go?
BRIAN BEST: Roy and Allison Barberi made a very smart decision when mounting their first musical production with Expression City: putting Curtis at the helm. Not only is Curtis a great actor, singer and dancer, but he is a great director and choreographer as well. PLUS, he has lots of great friends in town who he has assembled in this awesome cast! He has brought professional and community theatre actors together with students to train them how to do a Broadway style show. One complaint I “sometimes” have with professional or semi-professional theatres is that they fall short on the set and costumes since some of the monies that would normally be spent on those areas are used to pay the actors. Not true with “Hairspray”! The sets are looking GREAT; this is a monster of a show to costume, but with the help of many cast members and parents, costuming is coming together as well.
JP: As Edna, you’re leading man is Greg Frey. He’s one of my favorite people within the Nashville area theatre community. What’s he like as a co-star?
BRIAN BEST: I have had the pleasure to work with Greg as director in several shows at Gaslight Dinner Theatre in Dickson and am thrilled that he is my Wilbur. He is funny and charming onstage; there is a comfortable feeling with him since we have already worked together. I think that comfort level can be seen in Edna and Wilbur’s relationship onstage. Greg is a hardworking man and stays true to his word…a lot like Wilbur. Last week, Greg lost his mother. Most people would have asked for a replacement; but he wanted to stay true to his commitment…something he probably learned from her wise counsel. I am sure she is smiling down on him from above!
Rapid Fire with Jenny Norris Light, Velma Von Tussle in Expression City’s “Hairspray”
JP: You and Curtis have worked together a lot in the past, right? What’s he like as a director?
JENNY NORRIS LIGHT: Yes! Curtis and I have had the privilege to work together several times. He is literally one of my favorite people on the planet both on stage and off. As a director I like that he gives you very definite ideas and instructions to work with but allows you to color in the picture and bring your own characterizations and artistic ideas to the character and to the show in general. Plus he’s extremely talented in ,well, everything so you know you’re being directed by someone who really knows their stuff! Also he can read my mind when I’m making something dirty out of what he is saying but can’t say it out loud in front of young years. So that’s fun. Perks of being directed by your buddy!
JP: I can’t tell you how much I love Velma. Her turn during “The Legend of Miss Baltimore Crabs” is…well…legendary. What’s your favorite aspect of the character?
JENNY NORRIS LIGHT: Velma was a bucket list role for me. She’s the quintessential villain in the show and who doesn’t like to be able to play the villain. I love that she’s a diva and knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to show it. I love that she is a strong woman with no apologies in an era when it was tough to be that type of woman. I love that she is sexy and smart and a leader.
JP: How are you most like Velma?
JENNY NORRIS LIGHT: Velma is quite a bully and a racist and also Terribly manipulative, which are three of my least favorite things in a person. But one bit of humanity that I find in her character, that I can relate to, is the pressure of trying to please everyone all the time. I think Velma is always trying to make someone happy throughout the whole show in one way or the other. That is a pressure I can certainly relate to. I also had a short stint in pageants which created some times of insecurity and self doubt within my own life. I think perhaps Velma’s constant reminders of her “glory days” as Miss Baltimore Crabs is an attempt to hide her own insecurities and hang on to her quickly fading youth. I mean, I wouldn’t know anything about aging though since I celebrate my 21st birthday every year.
JP: With such a large youth cast, do you feel a certain responsibility to mentor them?
JENNY NORRIS LIGHT: Of course! I think all the professionals in the cast feel a responsibility to model professional behavior during the process as an example of how they should behave not only in this show but other shows they will do in the future. Plus, there is nothing more important and rewarding than helping to inspire the next generation of artists!
Rapid Fire with Seth Bennett, Link Larkin in Expression City’s “Hairspray”
JP: You worked with Curtis last year when he presented “Showstoppers”. What was that experience like?
SETH BENNETT: My experience in “Showstoppers” last year gave me the insight of what a professional show feels like, and let me know what to expect in this show. Curtis greatly improved my dance and acting skills and I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor.
JP: How familiar with “Hairspray” before being cast as in the show?
SETH BENNETT: I was actually in “Hairspray” around two years ago at my community theatre. I was cast as Fender on the “Corny Collins Show”, so I’m very familiar with the show.
JP: What’s it like to be heartthrob Link Larkin?
SETH BENNETT: Link Larkin is the biggest role I’ve had yet, and as proud as I am for myself I know I’m not any more valuable than someone who plays an ensemble role, but I think I play the part very well.
JP: Do you think you would have enjoyed being around during the sixties?
SETH BENNETT: I’m in love with the fashion and style of the sixties and think I would have fit in very well, but also I wouldn’t be able to live with the segregation and wouldn’t enjoy that period of time.
Rapid Fire 20 Q with Spencer Hughes, Tracy Turnblad in Expression City’s “Hairspray”
JP: How excited are you to be playing Tracy?
SPENCER HUGHES: I am beyond thrilled to be playing Tracy Turnblad. This has always been my dream role! I definitely never thought I would be able to do it!
JP: What’s Brian like as a ‘Mom’?
SPENCER HUGHES: I love having Brian play my mother! He is hilarious as Edna and so talented! Brian and I have actually known each other since I was about eight years old, so it’s really cool to be able to preform as a mother daughter duo!
JP: With NBC having just aired “Hairspray: LIVE”, your production couldn’t ask for a better reminder of the show’s wonderful vibe. Did you watch it or the 2007 film as research?
SPENCER HUGHES: Yes I did use both as a resource for myself. “Hairspray: LIVE” couldn’t have aired at a better time! I was really able to learn from Maddie Baillio and Nikki Blonsky. I actually got to have a skype interview with Broadway’s Marissa Perry which was also very beneficial!!
JP: I love Tracy’s ‘can do’ hopeful attitude. Do you share that trait with her?
SPENCER HUGHES: I really do try to have that “can do” spirit like Tracy!!! She is so positive and fun, I hope people think I’m like Tracy!
Expression City’s “Hairspray” opens Friday, January 13 for three performances only. The show will be presented in the sanctuary of Holy Trinity Community Church at 6727 Charlotte Pike in West Nashville. Tickets are $20 ($18 for Students and Seniors) and $15 for children 10 and under. All seating is General Admission. To purchase tickets in advance, CLICK HERE. Be sure to check out Expression City on Facebook for details about upcoming programs, classes and shows.
If you’ve enjoyed this edition of Rapid Fire 20 Q, CLICK HERE to check out previous conversations with some of Nashville’s most talented performers. Be sure and subscribe to Nashville Arts Critic by entering your email address in the “Subscribe” section to the right of this article. You can also follow us on Facebook,Twitter, Pinterest and Tumbler. Interested in coverage of your performing arts events, be sure and drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.