By Donalevan Maines
Ty Doran does everything Ginger Rogers did (and Divine, Harvey Fierstein, and John Travolta) when he plays fat and fem Edna Turnblad in the February 26–28 performances of the 2002 race-relations musical Hairspray at The Kinkaid School.
Ty also has a recurring role on ABC-TV’s second season of American Crime (the camera loves him) as Peter Tanner, the fawning younger brother of gay high school senior Eric Tanner, who is outed after allegations that a fellow male student was drugged and raped at a party that Eric hosted as co-captain of the basketball team at a tony private school (not unlike Kinkaid).
Meanwhile, Ty is also enjoying his high school senior year as an intern at Methodist Hospital. “I sit and watch them do surgery all day. It’s really cool,” he says.
The 18-year-old son of Kinkaid theater director Justin Doran and his wife, college counselor Robin Doran, Ty plans to follow graduation this spring at Kinkaid by enrolling as a theater major at prestigious Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, then go to medical school.
Hairspray is a unique co-production that unites students from mostly white Kinkaid in über-wealthy Piney Point Village with thespians from predominantly black George Washington Carver High School in Acres Homes.
American Crime also brings together characters from vastly different backgrounds, but being a drama, the results are calamitous. Ridley, who won an Oscar for adapting the screenplay for 12 Years a Slave, is aiming for nothing less than a moral inquiry into the explosion of race, class, and sexual ideologies in our country today.
Against the backdrop of racial unrest that we see played out every day, Carver and Kinkaid decided to put on a show together.
Cast members say the biggest challenge that Hairspray faced initially was “logistics,” as everyone’s parents worried whether their children, who rehearsed about the same amount of time at each school, would be safe traveling into foreign territory.
Carver parents had seen on TV what’s happened to some black youngsters who get pulled over in white neighborhoods, while Kinkaid parents aren’t used to their children “crossing the tracks.”
“It was fascinating to me to hear the same concerns, the same words, come from both sets of parents,” says Justin, who co-helmed Hairspray with Carver’s theater director, Roshunda Jones.
Justin also directed Ty as Zach in last spring’s Kinkaid musical, A Chorus Line, which swept four Tommy Tune Awards, including best musical, in the 13th year of the Theatre Under the Stars program that honors excellence in high school musical theater productions throughout the Houston area.
Jones directed the previous year’s multicultural musical In the Heights that collected a school-best four Tommy Tune prizes for Carver.
It was at last year’s Tommy Tunes that Doran, Jones, and Kinkaid dance teacher Krissy Richmond huddled over plans for the integrated Hairspray.
Then, last August, Ty auditioned for the racially charged American Crime and began filming his role a few days later on a sound stage and at various locations in Austin.
“You could not have orchestrated this any better,” says Justin, explaining how American Crime’s storylines are “ripped right from the headlines,” while the Hairspray project flies in the face of anyone who claims that we can’t all get along.
Justin says that Kinkaid often brings in guest speakers to explain issues and diverse perspectives to its students, “but we don’t provide any way to work closely with people who are different from them. We can hold a ‘diversity day,’ but we accomplished so much more by working together over an extended period of time. We had never had an experience like this before. The collaboration has been really wonderful.”
Hairspray will represent both Carver and Kinkaid at this year’s Tommy Tune Awards, which are named for, and hosted by, out Houston native son Tommy Tune. The program culminates each year in a Tony Awards-style ceremony, including this year’s kudofest to be held April 19 at the Hobby Center.
American Crime’s first season was an awards magnet with three nominations, for example, at the Golden Globe Awards in January (Best Miniseries or TV Film; Felicity Huffman, Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Film; and Regina King, Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or TV Film), and wins at the Emmy Awards for Regina King (Best Supporting Actress in a Limited TV Series or a Movie) and the 47th NAACP Image Awards for show creator John Ridley (Outstanding Director in a Drama Series).
I didn’t watch the first season of American Crime, whose honchos took a page from out producer/director Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story by employing many of the same actors from its first season in a completely different storyline in its next season.
This time around, Huffman plays the heartless, manipulative headmistress of the private school that Eric Tanner attends, King is the angry mother of Eric’s co-captain of the basketball team, and Timothy Hutton portrays a hapless coach (35 years after winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar as a suicidal teenager in Robert Redford’s Ordinary People).
Huffman, King, and Hutton are flawless, but so far, the adult acting crown belongs to Lili Tyler as the mother of the alleged rape victim, Taylor Blaine (how gay is that name?). He’s played by Connor Jessup, whose beautiful portrayal reminds me of Harrison Poe’s performance last year as Paul in A Chorus Line. As the gay, former drag queen, Poe won the 2015 Tommy Tune Award for Best Supporting Actor, and he inspired Ty.
“I remember witnessing his process, and how my dad worked with him on his monologue,” recalls Ty. “He said to make it about you. ‘Be real with it. Don’t put all those layers of stuff on it. Be genuine.’ That serves me greatly.”
Ty is neither fat nor fem, so the Briarbend teenager rehearsed his role in Hairspray in a fat suit and heels.
“I wore a 20-lb. vest and ankle weights and wrist weights to teach me how to handle myself as a larger person, who has a harder time moving,” he explains. “That helped a lot, as far as becoming a bigger person.”
The role of Edna was created by the late drag diva Divine in the 1988 John Waters cult classic Hairspray. The musical, set in segregated Baltimore, Maryland, in 1962, combines social commentary with high-energy pop music and “downtown” rhythm and blues in the tale of a chirpy white girl’s campaign to break the color barrier on a local TV dance show.
Hairspray won eight Tony Awards, including the first of three Best Director prizes for Jack O’Brien. Fierstein played Edna on Broadway, while Travolta was Edna in the movie version of the musical.
O’Brien is the out legend who helmed The Sound of Music as a lavish, sexy revival of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, with its North American tour coming through Houston February 16–21 as a Broadway Across America Houston presentation at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.
Houston’s high school co-production premiered January 15–17 at Carver, where audiences interrupted the show several times with standing ovations.
The February 26–28 performances will be at Kinkaid.
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.