The Augusta Players are performing an encore of Hairspray – a year and a half after the last curtain call.
Their season opens with the Tony Award-winning musical because of its success in April 2011.
“The feedback that we got from our patrons was overwhelming, with e-mails and phone calls raving about the production saying they hope we do it again soon,” said Debi Ballas, the group’s executive and artistic director.
It’s best to open a season with something splashy and energetic, she said, and Hairspray fits the bill.
She believes the musical’s draw is its variety – from ’60s soul music to rock-and-roll and from silly humor to witty dialogue.
The show, which opens the Players’ 68th season, will be at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21, and Saturday, Sept. 22, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, at the Imperial Theatre. Tickets are $20-$43 from (706) 722-8341, augustaplayers.org or imperialtheatre.com.
Most of the principal cast members have returned to perform their roles a second time.
“That really speaks to how much fun this show is because typically when you’ve done a show you want to move on to something else,” Ballas said. “When a cast really loves a show, I think the audience gets even more benefit from it.”
John Hutchens is reprising his role as Edna Turnblad, the main character’s mother who is traditionally played by a man.
To accomplish the physical transformation, he has to glue his eyebrows down, slather his face in heavy makeup and don a wig.
“Emotionally, it’s just finding your inner diva,” he said. “You can really camp it up a lot.”
Hutchens has been involved with the Players for about 10 years, but Edna is his first leading role.
“My best friend is actually my husband on stage, so it’s always fun to play opposite him,” he said.
Though many performers returned, they still rehearsed for weeks to hone their characters and build the stamina required for the demanding choreography.
“It’s been quite a bit more challenging than I thought it would be. I thought I’d remember a lot more than I have,” Hutchens said. “And as a personal goal as an actor, you always want to improve on your performance.”
Hairspray is just the beginning.
On Dec. 8-9, the Players will perform A Christmas Carol, a Yuletide classic that has become a holiday tradition. Though they stage the musical every December, it’s far from boring.
“I’ve directed it numerous times, and I still am moved by the music and the message,” Ballas said.
On Feb. 22-24, they will perform La Cage aux Folles, or The Birdcage, a musical Ballas has wanted to include for a long time.
“We try every year to mix some old classic musicals with some more contemporary ones, and so it just fit nicely into our season,” she said.
They also aim to accommodate different types of humor, alternating shows that feature some adult humor with others that are more family-friendly. La Cage is a production with more mature subject matter, as it focuses on a gay couple.
The musical requires quite a few men who can perform, act, sing and dance as women.
Though challenging, Ballas said, the show is outrageously funny.
“We find that Augusta audiences do seem to enjoy newer, slightly edgy, contemporary productions,” she said. “Even 15 years ago that wasn’t the case.”
The final production of the season will be Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, which will be staged May 10-12.
“The King and I is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most elaborate and timeless musicals,” Ballas said. “The music is lush and lavish, and it’s exquisitely costumed.”
The production requires the largest cast of any this season, including many children.
“The pressure is that it is such a beloved musical that those characters have become iconic and people come to the theater with expectations,” she said.
Each production requires a cast of between 20 and 50 people who devote themselves to rehearsing several nights a week for two months. It culminates in three performances for audiences ranging from those experiencing a live performance for the first time to regular theatergoers.
“I think people enjoy live theater far more than they anticipate,” Ballas said. “People go to the movies all the time, but this is far more intimate and engaging.”