So how does a New York-based actor-dancer-choreographer-producer-arts administrator - okay, let's just say it loud and clear right now: Justin Boccitto is a multi-hyphenate - find himself in Nashville, directing and choreographing a production of Hairspray at a Christian university with a theater program that's making a big splash locally, regionally and nationally?
The direct and succinct answer: He loves what he's doing, that's how. The decidedly longer and more elaborate answer: Justin Boccitto loves what he's doing and he admires the efforts of department chair Mike Fernandez and the theatre faculty at Lipscomb University, and he is excited to be along for the ride as the theatre program continues to grow and prosper.
For students in the theatre department at Nashville's David Lipscomb University, they're benefitting from Boccitto's talents and experience in ways both expected and surprisingly unexpected.
"It's great to be working with Justin," says LU senior Caleb Pritchett, a Franklin native who recently starred in LU Theatre's production of Ken Ludwig's Leading Ladies, following a summer spent working with Nashville Shakespeare Festival's Apprentice Company, playing Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet. "To be able to work on a show like this with someone like Justin can only help us if we plan a career in theater after we graduate."
According to Pritchett, Boccitto's professionalism is felt throughout the whole process as he utilizes his years of experience - and we daresay wisdom - to guide his student cast (there are 41 members of the Hairspray ensemble and that doesn't include the rest of his crew and creative team) through the exhausting, yet exhilaratingly creative steps of bringing an iconic, contemporary musical to an audience.
"He's tough on us, but that just makes us work harder," Pritchett maintains.
During a recent interview, Boccitto offered some insight into his work on the show, his background in theater and what's in store for him once Hairspray is up and running (November 3-6, which is homecoming weekend on campus, so you might make your reservations now!) at Lipscomb University's Collins Auditorium.
What's been the biggest surprise for you during the whole Hairspray process?
I would say I am most surprised with how perfect the cast is for this production. I was not actually part of this process because it's done very early in the year for all the productions Lipscomb Theater Department is presenting. Coming in from New York City you never know what the talent level is going to be. My three prior experiences with Lipscomb, as just choreographer, were Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Guys and Dolls and Ragtime.
I was also impressed with those casts but in Hairspray you see where certain students have grown as artists and performers. There are also a lot of freshmen in the cast and they add a fresh, new energy to the mix. This is a testament to the Lipscomb Theatre Department - which has tripled in size this year - and to the head of the department, Mike Fernandez, who has reinvented this program in just three years!
How have students responded to the material and the process? Do they get the significance of the story told by Hairspray?
They've responded well. I think it is easy to lose track of the significance just because the musical can, at times, be surface material. What I mean is, at first glance, the show appears to be a fluffy musical comedy with fun characters and a silly plot. But a second look can show you how pertinent the story is to even today's social issues of civil rights and injustice.
The cast and I have spoken in depth about John Waters' intention with writing the important message of racial segregation into a dark comedic tale revolving around the power of mass media through television. Now, our production is definitely focusing more on the positive aspects of the script and we've made sure nothing inappropriate is being conveyed in our storytelling. We've also had a great resource in our assistant director, Deb Holloway, who was a young girl during the early '60s. She has really helped put some perspective on the events.