Q&A: The Groovy and the Inspirational “Hairspray”

Actor Brandon G. Stallings Takes Us behind the Scenes of the 60’s-Inspired Musical with Heart
Brandon G. Stallings, who plays Seaweed J. Stubbs in “Hairspray”, which will be at San Jose Center for the Performing Arts from November 23-28, 2021. Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel

Arturo Hilario
El Observador

Brandon G. Stallings is an actor originally from the South Side of Chicago, who from the age of four joined in singing in his local church choir and eventually found himself immersed in music, dancing and acting.

Recently we had an opportunity to speak to the talent behind the character of Seaweed J. Stubbs in the national touring production of “Hairspray”, which is coming to San Jose Center for the Performing Arts from November 23-28, 2021.

Originally a John Waters movie from 1988 (with a remake in 2007 with John Travolta), the movie and Broadway show center around 1960’s Baltimore and the main character of Tracy Turnblad, a 16-year-old who is desperate to fulfill her dream of showing off her moves in the most popular dance party television show around. Not only that, but she also wants to desegregate the all-white dance show and bring people of all colors and backgrounds together who just want to just dance.

Filled with energetic original songs and dancing to spare, the cult classic film eventually wound up becoming the stage production that has won universal praise and eight Tony Awards since its inception in 2002.

Even now, the themes of the show dealing with racial segregation and the turmoil that came from it, and the positivity it chooses to unify the story despite the circumstances feels much needed in this post-pandemic era.

Continue reading to hear directly from actor Brandon G. Stallings about his journey to the stage, his role as Seaweed J. Stubbs, and how “Hairspray” emits love and good feelings.

Hi Brandon. To start off, I wanted to know a little bit about your background and how you became interested in the performing arts and essentially, what were those stepping stones to help you achieve getting there?

Yeah, definitely. My background started when I was four years old and I joined the choir at my Church in the South Side of Chicago. So I grew up in Chicago, and I was in the choir up until I moved to the suburbs and started middle school. I then joined the choir there. Music has always kind of been just a big, deeply rooted thing in my life, music and dancing, too.

I started doing my first musical, my first play when I was in 7th grade, and after that, it just kind of soared into College, where I went for musical theater, and then I switched my major over to acting [and] I graduated with a BFA in acting, which was really good.

I love music and blending that with theater as well. It fuels my drive for it. You know, it changes people. People go into the movies to see theatrical experiences and everything. You walk out of theater and you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, that just affected me. I can still feel it.”

That’s been my journey, and it’s just me calm and thankful. I have a lot of gratitude every time I do theater, and every time I do theater, every time I’m in a show or write a song or play on the guitar a little bit. It brings me bliss, the energy of that.

Thank you very much. Could you set the stage for me in terms of the story in “Hairspray” and your interpretation of what the show is about?

Yeah, definitely. I believe that this show is about a group of human beings on stage that all are wanting their end result to be loved or have love or have love across the board in so many different forms and how one person can kind of create a ripple effect among so many people and so many different ideas and how a culture and the differences between cultures can come together and live harmoniously.

And I think that’s what drives the initial beat. From that very first downbeat at the beginning of the musical, it’s a bass and it’s giving you the heartbeat of a town. So that’s what I think the show means to me, it’s a call to action, it’s a call to love.

Could you describe your character of Seaweed J. Stubbs?

I play Seaweed J. Stubbs; you see him rocking his nice bright greens. He loves his green. He also loves to dance; he loves to move his hips and feel the rhythm of the music [but] he feels that heartbeat. He’s sly, he’s smooth but he’s also a little quirky, and he likes quirky. And I see a lot of myself in this character, because he is young and naive but he’s also big hearted and bright eyed. I think he’s still growing every single day and I think his character in particular definitely fuels the story in bringing people together. This is someone that accepts everyone, from the beginning.

I’ve been lucky enough to play this role three times in my life, and this is the third time that I’ve done it. I did it my sophomore year of high school, onto my sophomore year of college, and now I’m two years out of college and I’m doing this role again. So it’s a very beautiful story to me, it moves me in ways that I never thought before.

Do you have a favorite number in this show?

My favorite number to watch is “Welcome to the 60’s”, because it’s actually a number that I am not in, but almost the entire cast shows up on stage for this number, and I think that is such a beautiful thing, to have almost an entire company all on stage together. I have a different perspective from the backstage that the audience has from out there, but the magic is still so real still backstage, so you can feel their presence and their energy filling the entire stage. And not only just coming out to the audience, it’s also being received backstage, and I watch that number every single night. It’s very inspirational.

My Number two, which I perform in is “Run And Tell That” for sure, because I get all of my people, the Motormouth kids, they all just rush the stage and we fill the stage with so much energy together, and it’s so heartwarming for me to be around people that look like me and that have similar experiences in their lifetime as me. To be able to share space together and break bread with them on stage. That is very beautiful and meaningful.

Thanks Brandon. So from my last question, what do you hope that audiences take away from the show? And why would you recommend the show to people that may not be familiar with it?

I hope that people take away that there can be love everywhere, this world can receive so much love and feel safe and protected. This show has a beautiful message of just coming together and standing with the community.

For people that don’t know about this show, I would say to come experience what we can achieve today, on a smaller scale. This is something that is so historical and so good, and imagine if the world just felt that? So yeah, come and see some love happen on stage, come and see a magical story unfold of all-encompassing love.

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