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AHS Theatre Ensemble Does It Again

Adam Aleksic, Editor-in-Chief

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The Albany High School Theatre Ensemble has done it together with an absolutely riveting performance of Hairspray, a story in which people of many different backgrounds and ethnicities come together to integrate a television show. I caught the premiere on Thursday, March 15, in a nearly sold out auditorium.

“It was really amazing,” gushed actress Alexandra Sipos. “A really special show. I think it brings a lot of people together who wouldn’t necessarily gotten to know each other… we’re such a close cast, and I think that’s the most beautiful thing about it.” Mr. John Sawyer, who also performed, concurred. “It was a team effort,” he said, elaborating that “Hairspray is popular because it’s the perfect combination of memorable songs, interesting characters and fast paced choreography intermingled with important social messages and positive role models.”

To an outsider, however, the best part was the astoundingly good singing. It’s really surprising how talented kids at our high school are. Some standout songs were Good Morning Baltimore, in which lead Anabelle Duffy opened the play with a crisp, clear voice to thunderous applause; Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now, which had a quaint, old-timey style to it, and was quite moving through its repetition of the phrase “stop, don’t, no”; Welcome to the 60s, where the dynamites proved to be the best backup singers of the show; You’re Timeless to Me, where classy singing accompanied a hilarious story sequence; I Know Where I’ve Been, which had a fantastic soul vibe to it; and You Can’t Stop the Beat, the finale which had the audience on its feet.

Acting skills were also well above par in general, with some characters really standing out. Etan Kaziyev was positively dashing as Link, Alex Sipos and Sophia Gaffney were pleasantly unpleasant as the Von Tussles, Sam Bromirski perfected the on-air radio host voice as emcee Corny Collins, and Annabelle Duffy filled in the lead role quite adeptly.

Many others also shone, with Alexis Flynn and Queone Sylvester displaying good partnership and Anneka Knoll keeping the audience as amused as she did last year. But, of course, Mr. Bizarro (as Wilbur Turnblad) and Mr. Sawyer (dressed as Edna Turnblad) stole the show. In You’re Timeless to Me, they had fantastic chemistry, with their synchronized dancing, almost convincing romance, and riotous antics- sealed with a kiss. “I feel like Edna was a part of me,” Sawyer said. Humor (often of a sexual nature) lightened the mood in several instances and proved to be quite uproarious.

Apart from the acting and singing, there were some little touches which went a long way. The pit orchestra accompanied the music beautifully, never wavering, treading that line between the background and foreground beautifully. Costumes were elaborate, with extravagant wigs and dresses adding both realism and comedy (and being representative of the period). Lighting was done well, especially when combined with the smoke that would sometimes waft out over the audience. Finally, the props used were amazing, from the giant hairspray can to the little ones, which were used quite liberally.

The main problem was the audio quality. Occasionally, there was a loud feedback noise unpleasantly echoing across the theatre, and sometimes the microphones wouldn’t kick in until the actors were already a few words into their song. Other issues included shoddy backgrounds (they looked like they were designed in Microsoft PowerPoint 2007) and some other hiccups that audience members couldn’t catch (a few missed cues and drama over late actors, I found out afterwards). However, these small mistakes were drowned out by what truly defined the show: the spectacular performances.

It wouldn’t be an Albany High School production if there weren’t some leftist undertones, and this year’s message was to make “a blatant comment on what white people are able to get away with relative to Black people, even today”, hoping to raise the question “how can I be a more conscientious ally to the oppressed identity groups in my life?”, according to the programme booklet. “It’s soft, it’s funny, but, you know, underneath that, we have very serious issues that we face,” Sipos said. “You really have to look within yourself to show other people what kind of biases we have; we just don’t talk about them on a daily basis.” Mr. Sawyer echoed these notions by saying  that “it brings to light ugly truths that were prevalent in the 60s and still exist in one form or another today.  But, more importantly, it shows that people can make a difference when they choose to become an ally to groups of people who are different than themselves.”

Originally, the play was meant to be just that -a play- and musical elements weren’t incorporated until some point last year. It’s great that this change was made, because the superb singing really made the whole experience phenomenal. Overall, the audience was constantly entertained, everybody left with a smile on their faces, and it can be safely said that the AHS theatre ensemble has succeeded yet again.

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