Street Theatre Company’s upcoming production of the all- American musical Hairspray is in the middle of rehearsals. The great folks at the theatre managed to arrange a series of interviews with the cast and crew of the show. In this installment of the Green Room series, I talk with local African-American actress Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva.
Jennifer, you’re playing Motormouth Maybelle in this show. Tell us a little about your theatrical history.
I am a Nasvillian. I was born here and went to college at the Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory of Music and then finished up at Austin Peay. I really enjoyed playing Fastrada in Pippin, that was a really fun role, and not something I would usually do. Also, I played Kathy in Really Rosie: that was great, and it’s rare that I get to play a 10-year-old.
Have you done Hairspray or worked with Street Theatre in the past?
This is my first attempt at Hairspray and my first show with STC. It’s wonderful, really different than anything I’ve ever experienced. There’s no pressure, and I really enjoy working with younger people.
How has this production been different than other shows you’ve done?
I would say the most challenging bit of work so far has been finding a medium. Because this is a period piece, I think people tend to get lost in the songs and the glitter and all that. There is a lot of serious stuff going on. Finding the balance between ‘we’re going to sing at the drop of a hat’ and exposing the truth behind the show is difficult. It’s so real, and I think with a musical you want to be taken away, so you really have to find that balance and play the truth of it.
Hairspray is a very topical piece. How has that affected you?
Once you get so involved, so deep, in a show, you’re just finding things out all the time. Hairspray has really made me think about what was going on. I’ve had to do a lot of research, because it’s not the same as what’s going on today, even though some of the problems seem the same. Sometimes in rehearsal, I’ll be playing it one way, and then I have an epiphany and say ‘wait, I’ve got to think about this.’ So you have to be open and view everything from all kinds of angles. That’s a lot to think about, and trying to solidify it is hard.
Tell us about that big dream role you’re just dying to take on.
One of my top dream roles is Kate in Kiss Me Kate. Colorblind casting has come a long way. With Kiss Me Kate and a lot of shows, you don’t have to play it true to period.
What makes this production of Hairspray something special?
I think the audience will love the vocalists. I’m amazed by the talent in this cast. Being in a room full of forty people that can just sing the rafters down off the building is wonderful, and the music great. That’s why a lot of people love Hairspray, but it really helps when you have singers that can just put you there.
Other articles in this series:
- In the green room at Hairspray with L.T. Kirk
- In the green room at Hairspray with Jon Royal
- In the green room at Hairspray with Tonya Pewitt
- In the green room at Hairspray with Daniel Rye
- In the green room at Hairspray with Michael Holder
- In the green room at Hairspray with Tamaiya Clayton
- In the green room at Hairspray with Rollie Mains
- In the green room at Hairspray with Cathy Sanborn Street
Hairspray runs March 25-April 16, with performances Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 5 p.m. Tickets are $16 and $14. For more information visit the Street Theatre Company website.