‘Hairspray’ brings strong message

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Ja’Sonta Roberts-Deen is ecstatic to be playing Motormouth Maybelle in Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s rendition of “Hairspray.”

“This is my first production with Pittsburgh Musical Theater and things have been going really well. This musical has singing and dancing and the theme is to be happy with yourself regardless of what the outside world says. You have to know that you have something unique inside you and you can do so many different things and that shines through in the musical,” said 34-year-old Roberts-Deen who grew up in Wilkinsburg.

HAIRSPRAY-Jasonta

Set in 1962 Baltimore, “Hairspray” tells the story of “pleasantly plump” Tracy Turnblad who dreams of dancing on the Corny Collins TV show. When she wins a role on the show, Tracy becomes an overnight sensation and tries to integrate the show. It was conceived as a musical in 1998 after TV broadcasts of the original film.

Robert-Deen is enjoying sinking her teeth into the meaty role of Motormouth Maybelle, a big, boisterous character who works with Tracy and her friends to integrate the show and rid the town of racial prejudices.

“Maybelle has her own voice. Her story is that she is going to fight and keep on trying no matter what,” Roberts-Deen said. “I think we have quite a bit of work to do. We’ve made great strides in how we see each other racially. Racism back then was more open and now it’s done behind closed doors. We’ve always had to overcome those things but this only makes African-Americans more resilient.”

Another theme in “Hairspray” is the timeless love that occurs between Tracy’s parents.

“They are still in love regardless of getting older. They love each other. It’s timeless,” she said. “People need to accept each other, regardless.”

Although this is her first production with Pittsburgh Musical Theater, Roberts-Deen is no stranger to the stage.

She graduated from Point Park University with a degree in theater and a certificate in early education. She has performed in local and regional productions including New Horizon Theater’s “The Poets Corner,” and Kuntu Repertory Theater’s “A Raisin In the Sun.” In addition, Roberts-Deen also serves as associate director with the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater. Some of her directing credits include August Wilson’s “Fences.”

“I love theater in general. I love the healing quality of it. I didn’t have the best home life and I was able to immerse myself into theater. I was able to let my emotions and energy out. I love the escapism of theater and I love what it can do for people. I’m a performer first and I try to understand how to coax it and mold it because I’ve been on both sides of it,” Roberts-Deen said.

When she isn’t performing, Roberts-Deen works with children at Communities in Schools, which provides the link between educators and the community so teachers can teach and kids can focus on learning, thus shrinking the dropout rate.

“I have a very understanding and supportive husband and employer who believe in the arts. God gave me the talent and the passion and the drive to do this and I can’t be myself without it,” Roberts-Deen who enjoys spending time with her husband and son taking in a movie or cooking when she isn’t working. ‘I would love to do more with the Pittsburgh Musical Theater because I have had a wonderful experience.”

The professional company of the Pittsburgh Musical Theater performs Broadway shows at the Byham Theater. Auditions are open to equity and non-equity performers, although local performers are given precedence. It also uses, professional musicians live. Pittsburgh Musical Theater is a non-profit company which provides musical performances at affordable prices.

(“Hairspray” will run at the Byham Theater May 5-15. For ticket information, visit http://www.pgharts.org or call 412-456-6666.)

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