Most people wouldn’t be able to recall the last time someone broke out into song on the bus, prompting passengers and driver alike to join in the tunes and choreographed dancing. Or any time, for that matter.
Luckily, for those who find themselves wishing it was a reality at times other than when their head hits the pillow at night, the West Island Student Theatre Association is having a go at filling that void with its take on Broadway staple Hairspray.
“It’s young, and it’s fresh, and it’s energetic,” said membership rep Marie Alexiou of the musical, which WISTA has been working on for five months.
Hairspray recounts the story of Tracy Turnblad, a Baltimore gal with a big-time dream of getting her restless feet seen in the The Corny Collins Show (and an even bigger hairdo to boot). The musical manages to touch serious themes like racial integration in the midst of upbeat songs, crazy dance moves and sixties threads in every colour to come out of the crayon box.
With a cast comprised of young students and an energy Alexiou described as “buzzing” on set, Hairspray seemed a natural choice for the company’s first foray into Broadway material.
“It was us â€“ it wasn’t serious, and sad, and dark. It was singing, dancing, happy, funny, and it was just a perfect fit,” explained board and cast member Matt Apuzzo.
Founded in 2006 in its namesake location of West Island, WISTA is comprised of students from ages 17 to 29 with a shared love for musical theatre. And as cast member Craig Dalley explains, it’s the kind of experience that takes one beyond simply rehearsing lines.
“As corny as it might sound, it kind of becomes like a second family, a second home, because every Sunday, say you’ve had a horrible week, you’ve just been having a horrible day, you’re just in a horrible mood, you go and you know there’s always people there,” he said. “They’re always there, just to lift your spirits.”
Stage manager Ashley Frankel says being part of WISTA did more for her than satiate her curiosity about the world of musical theatre.
“WISTA’s definitely built my confidence. I used to be super-shy and I wouldn’t do anything, and I wouldn’t even think of going in front of an audience and performing,” she explained. “And I’ve met a bunch of different people who like to put themselves out there and really make a fool of themselves and have a good time and sing and dance as much as I do.”
The company aims to give back not just to its members, but to the community it was born out of, too. WISTA donates part of its profits to charity, with this production’s donation going to West Island Community Shares, an organization which Apuzzo explained is “for the West Islanders, and created by West Islanders, which essentially helps homes that are in need.”
Well aware that many people’s opinions on the musical are based on the recent movie version, the WISTA members are quick to point out that the Broadway musical and the film are very different. The company aimed to make it more like the Broadway show, the success of which can be measured in Tony awards rather than how many swoons certain Hollywood stars can prise from teenage viewers.
“We went for the Broadway version instead of the movie version, but it’s unique in how everybody plays their character,” said Apuzzo. “If we get to say it, it’s the WISTA version.”
It’s a sentiment that Alexiou echoed: “Each actor that we have on the show brings their own talent. […] If it weren’t for these talents that we have within the cast, I think our production would just be a very different kind of show.”
For another layer of Montreal talent, Stewart Grant, artistic director of the West Island Youth Symphony Orchestra, and some members from the orchestra jumped on board to help provide live music for the show.
As the next big step for the company, the WISTA members hope Hairspray helps audiences take note of the talent they’ve been polishing every Sunday for the past few years.
“We’ve really grown and improved and we really want to show people and attract more audiences for the next amazing show,” said Frankel. “Really get our name out there to the West Island, maybe a little bit beyond, and show them what we can do.”
Dalley has something more specific in mind: “‘Wow, look at those kids go.’ I think that’s especially what I’d like to get people to walk out and be like.”
With infectious energy that could only have engendered from months of singing and dancing through a repertoire of sixties songs, the members of WISTA are ready to take the stage once more.
“Here we are doing this full production, here we are showing Quebec, and showing â€“ hopefully â€“ the world what we can accomplish,” said Alexiou. “We dream big, but I think we can do it.”
Hairspray is showing on June 3, 4, 9, 10 and 11 at Lindsay Place Theatre (111 Broadview, Pointe-Claire). Tickets are $18 for students, available at www.wista.ca.