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Hairspray at Liberty University Tower Theater

Liberty is opening a new performing arts center (Tower Theater) this fall, and the first production is Hairspray, the musical based on the movie written by John Waters [link].

HAIRSPRAY delighted audiences by sweeping them away to 1960’s Baltimore, where the 50’s are out — and change is in the air. Loveable plus-size heroine, Tracy Turnblad, has a passion for dancing, and wins a spot on the local TV dance program, “The Corny Collins Show.” Overnight she finds herself transformed from outsider to teen celebrity. Can a larger-than-life adolescent manage to vanquish the program’s reigning princess, integrate the television show, and find true love
(singing and dancing all the while, of course!) without mussing her hair?

I’ve seen the movie but not the musical; I suppose it’s possible that the musical doesn’t deal with desegregation, which was a major theme of the movie.

The small handful of productions I saw at Liberty when I was there as a student they typically did by the book: Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was done unedited, and was just as heavy-handed and overwrought as the original. As I recall the Red Scare themes of the play were implicit, so it was possible to watch the play and think it was entirely about religious hysteria in Massachusetts in the 1690s and not also about political hysteria in Eisenhower America.

The relationship between conservative Christianity and the arts generally is always complicated; the much-lamented Ektachrome Transparencies blog dealt with some of the issues of the film program at Bob Jones University and gave a better treatment than I can here. Suffice it to say that there’s always someone who will be offended by someone else’s artistic expression, and an arts program at a conservative school always walks a tightrope, mostly without a net. So far as I know there is still no life drawing class at Liberty, and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for one to happen.

Anyway, I don’t know what to think of the production of Hairspray at Liberty. This is one of those times where there may be a stage production that is based on a film that might or might not be shown on campus, and if so certainly wouldn’t be part of a John Waters film festival. This is one of the points where fundamentalists and evangelicals of some stripes part ways: fundamentalists wouldn’t put on a production of Hairspray because Waters is gay and made some other films with well-nigh unspeakable content; evangelicals are more likely to consider each work separately.

  1. thehidalgograincompany
    October 20, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Hey Mike — the “Ektachrome” link is dead — I think BJU finally “whacked” Ektachrome.

    Try http://thehidalgograincompany.wordpress.com/

    Keep up the good work,

    GEaston, CEO of THGC

    • October 20, 2010 at 1:21 pm

      Thanks for the link. I really have no idea what happened to the Ektachrome Transparencies blog; I honestly thought the author treated Bob Jones with love and respect. It went private for a while and then vanished altogether.

  2. thehidalgograincompany
    October 20, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Mike – I’ll let Ektachrome know. Most thought he was an angry bitter guy. Like you I thought he was honest in his treatment of BJU. Ektachrome remains an excellent source for THGC, but daily blogging is just not his “thing” anymore.

    ~ GE

  3. Rachel
    April 20, 2011 at 3:50 am

    As in the movie, one of the funniest components of the Hairspray musical, in my opinion, is that a man plays Edna, Tracy’s mother. It’s as much a Hairspray tradition as it is for the same actor to play Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in Peter Pan. So I was disappointed, but not exactly surprised, to find that in Liberty’s production, a woman played Edna! To me, this is a HUGE departure, and if they weren’t willing to adhere to such a crucial aspect of the show, they shouldn’t have attempted it at all.

    But of course (gag me) cross-dressing is far too shocking and sinful to be in a show at Liberty University. I grew up in the fundamentalist Christian world, unfortunately, and all the legalism, unnecessary rules, and hypocrisy get really old after awhile. But seriously, you can’t put a man in a dress because it’s going to make God too mad? Wow.

    As to your original point, I’m surprised that you differentiate between fundamentalists and evangelicals. I have always thought of them as synonomous and would be interested to hear your interpretation.

    • April 25, 2011 at 2:13 pm

      Rachel —

      Thanks for stopping by.

      As to your original point, I’m surprised that you differentiate between fundamentalists and evangelicals. I have always thought of them as synonomous and would be interested to hear your interpretation.

      This was something I took a crack at a while back; it’s complicated. Some people group fundamentalists and Pentecostals together with some of the prosperity theology people under the evangelistic banner. I think they do this because they all voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and/or 2004. I tend to distinguish between fundamentalists and evangelicals because the former group is separatist and the latter not. There’s more to it than that, obviously. Evangelicals are more likely to grant that believers and nonbelievers can discuss matters of truth and matters of faith in a common frame of reference; fundamentalists are more likely to insist that they stipulate what is and isn’t true, etc.

      Historically the self-proclaimed fundamentalists of the Bob Jones/John R. Rice stripe broke fellowship with the “new evangelicals” as they were called then over issues surrounding engagement with the greater culture, modernism, modern scholarship, and accreditation of institutions of higher learning. The latter consider the former anti-intellectual; the former consider the latter man-pleasers.

      So there you go: as far as I can tell the distinctions can be political or social. I don’t think strictly theological terms like “Calvinist” or “Arminian” are helpful here, as you can find both on both sides of the divide.

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