They say the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice, and Seaweed J. Stubs is here to run and tell that alongside Miss Penny Lou Pingleton, who has found her blue-eyed soul after meeting Seaweed! Continuing on the You Can’t Stop the Beat interview series, TheatreBloom sits down with Andre Hinds and Sophie Schulman to talk about Seaweed and Penny.
Thank you both for taking a moment and sitting with us! If you could give us a brief introduction of who you are, who you play in Hairspray and what you’ve done on the stage in the area in the last year or so, we’ll get started!
Andre Hinds: I am Andre Hinds and I play Seaweed J. Stubs in Hairspray. Recently I just Peter Pan here at Toby’s, and I did Guys & Dolls at Olney. I was in Addams Family and Mary Poppins here at Toby’s before that.
Sophie Schulman: I’m Sophie Schulman. I play Penny Lou Pingleton. It’s really hard to remember what I’ve done. Let’s see, I did Into the Woods here, I played Little Red. I understudied Bad Jews at Studio Theatre. I did a workshop with Walter Ware and I think that’s about it in the last year at least.
You’re both first timers to “the spray?” as they say here? And what has that been like?
Andre: Yes. It’s been like a bucket list role of mine. Now having it, it’s by far the hardest thing I’ve had to do so far. Just singing and dancing in general is pretty hard, and this is a really high energy show. But the experience has been really good. Funny story, because I actually auditioned for the first two Hairsprays here at Toby’s both in Baltimore back in 2012 and right here in Columbia in 2010 and didn’t get into either production.
Sophie: Yes. It’s been really great. I have never auditioned for Hairspray. Penny was kind of a dream role that I thought I would never get to play. It’s been a really great experience. I usually get more acting roles that are much lighter on the singing. This is like that, except not because although she doesn’t much when she sings it’s supposed to be this big crazy thing! It’s been really awesome and not to speak for both of us, but doing it right now has been especially powerful and I feel very lucky to be able to tell this story.
Perfect segue into my next question, Sophie! Do you guys think that what’s happening in Hairspray as far as civil inequality and civil injustice is still speaking to modern audiences with any relevancy?
Andre: Ab-so-lute-ly. Not sure how much slower I can say that. It’s funny, because when they say that history repeats itself, it sure enough does. It’s funny how this piece has come to us at this time. I think right as we all were being cast in the show, it was right after the Baltimore riots had happened. As soon as that happened, and as soon as we got the production up on its feet and open, there was then all of this other craziness happening all across the country if not all across the globe. I feel rewarded to get a chance to tell this story and to play this part. Now I can feed off of what’s going on out in the world and have my own spin on it while still having it relate to a 1962 issue. It’s crazy how relevant things are today in that aspect.
Sophie: I think it’s definitely still applicable. I was just listening the other morning to all the mothers— of Treyvon Martin, Sandra Bland and a bunch of others— a bunch of women spoken at the DNC and it definitely made me think about this show. They were so powerful and strong. Similar to this show, they had a very non-violent, powerful way of moving forward, trying to change the world. That’s exactly what the people in this show are trying to do. In a time when I feel really helpless and unable to make a big change in what’s going on, this show lets me feel like I’m doing something by telling the story. Maybe it will resonate with someone.
Andre: I feel like the two of us— just our characters— we are the first people to bridge the gap not only when it comes to civil rights, but interracial relationships on top of that— which is unheard of! It reminds me of that movie that just came out— or is about to come out— what was it called?
Sophie: Loving. They filmed it in Virginia.
Andre: It’s all about this couple who moved into a neighborhood, got married, and were accosted just because of their relationship. The laws back in that town forbid interracial marriages, and they were both locked up for six to eight months for marrying someone outside of their own race.
Sophie: It’s crazy. It seems less but somehow more crazy now because it doesn’t seem that far off. Like we are still dealing with it.
Andre: My best friend is getting married. He’s black and his fiancé is white and they just had a beautiful mixed baby. And every now and then they get accosted by members of their own races— “why are you with this white girl?” or “why are you with this black guy?” And it’s just unbelievable that people still act that way and have the nerve to ask those questions. Why not? Why is it any of your business to begin with?
In addition to civil rights, Hairspray also addresses the issue of body image. Do you think that is still impacting how you guys as actors get work, does that still read to modern audiences?
Andre: Oh yes! Body image is still a thing. I have been not cast in plenty of things or not gotten work because I’m too tall. When they’re trying to create a picture or set up a scene I stand out completely because of my height. It kind of sucks in that moment, when they shoot me down because I’m too tall. I’ve auditioned for Disney Cruises and I had made it through to the very last round only to have them say, “Thank you, our height cap is 6’2.” And I’m 6’4. And that’s depending on the boat, sometimes its shorter. I mean I get it, especially with Disney where they have to have consistency across the board with all the people they play, plus they have the costumes that are fitted to that cap. So Disney is just not for me, I’m going to keep trying other places.
Sophie: I’m very short so I have the opposite issue. But also I’ve been very different weights through my career and it has very much effected the work I get. It even effects the type of roles I see myself in. Being in this show I feel sort of guilty anytime I’m backstage thinking “I need to lose five pounds.” And then I yell at myself, “Sophie! What show are you in? Think about what you just said on stage!” And every time I say it I do really believe it. About other people, for some reason I just can’t believe it about myself.
Andre: That’s always the case.
Sophie: I think there’s fat-shaming everywhere. I had a friend at work just the other day say to me that if they go out and eat food that is “unhealthy” in public, people look at them like “how dare you eat that? Don’t you see what you look like?” And so much of that has nothing to do with just eating habits. A lot of it is genetics. Or better yet? Who cares? Maybe they just want to eat the cake!
Andre: Here’s the thing. Let’s take me for example. Just because I’m super skinny does not mean that the inside is as healthy as the outside looks!
Sophie: Right? Exactly!
Andre: Because the fried foods are definitely still being ingested. I’m pretty sure I’m just now digesting something I ate a week ago because it has not broken down properly because I don’t eat properly.
Sophie: People equate health with size and that’s not always the case. And even if it was, someone else’s health is not my business. People can be beautiful at any size.
Andre: For sure. Absolutely!
What would you guys say has been your biggest challenge taking on this show?
Andre: For me it’s definitely the singing. Seaweed is a tenor. I’m technically a baritone, or as a good friend has told me, “you are being a pretenor.” It has been the most challenging thing for me. A lot of the shows I have been doing are chorus and ensemble roles which are great blending. This is the first time where I’ve gotten to step out and actually sing and actually have people hear me sing. That’s kind of nerve wracking at times. This show is vocally insane. It seems like all new musical theatre shows, from 2000 on forward, there are no more parts for baritones, there are no more basses anymore. There’s tenor— tenor1 and tenor2 and alto and that’s it. All of this new stuff coming out is screaming in the rafters for guys.
Sophie: For ladies too!
Andre: So the singing for me, definitely.
Sophie: Yeah, the singing is definitely a challenge for me as well. I think also just the energy needed to get through this show. The only other show that I’ve done this long of a run for was a tour— but the show was a one-hour show, so it’s definitely not the same thing. The closest thing I can compare it to is Into the Woods. You need a huge amount of energy for that show, and it’s very hard but for very different reasons. I had so much down time for Into the Woods. I’d come, skip around a little, do a sassy scene, and then I’d go and sit down for 20 minutes. This is not like that.
I cannot even imagine what the ensemble goes through. I barely dance in this show and when I do, it’s a little “hey look at me I’m terrible at dancing” but then at the end I get to bust out, “Just kidding! I have soul now!” But mostly I don’t dance. But it’s still exhausting! There is just so much excitement all the time, everything is heightened. Mark (Director and Choreographer Mark Minnick) always said it was like we’re using a giant pink paintbrush. It comes from an honest place, but it’s completely heightened and up all the time. And that is really hard to maintain.
Andre: I think of this show in the way I think of Pleasantville, that movie, in the way that everyone is completely plastered in smiles and on edge the entire time. As soon as we come out for “Good Morning, Baltimore” it’s like “HERE I AM! AND YOU GET TWO HOURS OF THIS!” With our huge smiles and huge energy all right there in everyone’s face.
Sophie: It is definitely a lot, but like the other night? We had such a great audience, and I realized “wow, it’s not even hard.” An audience can get you so pumped up that you’re just full of that love and then you have it to give to them and you just whip through the show and it feels awesome.
We’ve talked about the dancing, and you said you don’t dance too much, Sophie, but what about you, Andre?
Andre: I’ve realized that Seaweed literally does not stop moving from the time he comes out on stage until the time the show is over. He is constantly moving. He’s got a groove in his pocket and he just wants to show everybody all the time.
Sophie: That’s not all he’s got in his pocket.
Andre: That’s why I steal her from the house. But seriously, dancing is just in my blood. I got to go to school for it and that’s nice. It comes very easy to me. I’m blessed to say that I have natural move about me and a natural air about me that just skates across stage. Dancing is a lot of fun.
Sophie: Mark’s choreography is great. I wish I danced more in this show. I love to dance and I never get to.
Andre: Part of me wishes I could sit down, just sit back and watch this show because Mark’s choreography is just so great. I don’t know how he thinks of some of the stuff he thinks of— especially in the round! Not many people can be that spatially aware.
Well, we’ve taken a dive into the Mark pool, let’s go all the way and ask— what is it like working with Mark Minnick? Because you’ve both worked with him before, right?
Andre: This is my— let’s see Mary Poppins, Addams, Peter Pan— this is my fourth Mark show!
Sophie: This is my second Mark show.
Andre: Mark Minnick is a genius. He doesn’t fuck around with the bullshit. It’s nice. He is clear and straight to the point. If you’re not giving what he wants— “do it again.” And he will do it, and do it, again and again until you get not only the energy and the emotion right but all of that delivered together to the moves with the music. He demands perfection, he expects perfection, and he knows we can do it and says that’s why he’s yelling at us in those moments.
Sophie: He has more confidence in us than we have a lot of times in ourselves. There were things in the show that when he gave them to me I said “I can’t do that.” And he said, “Well, you’re going to do it. Talk to me in a month, if you’re still struggling then during rehearsal we can talk about it. But for now you need to just do it.” And I was like “okay, well in a month…” But actually he was right and in a month it was totally fine. He’s just awesome.
Andre: He really is.
Sophie: He really instilled a lot of faith in myself that I didn’t have. Thank you, Mark!
Andre: It’s totally true. Like I said, he doesn’t have time for bullshit. That makes rehearsals proficient, easy, and a joy. And if you’re turning out what he expects from you, sometimes you even get lucky and can leave a tiny bit early!
You mentioned that big routine, “Good Morning, Baltimore.” What is it that gets your morning going?
Andre: Oh my gosh. Sophie?
Sophie: I like to have a banana and peanut butter protein shake. I had one this morning. It was really delicious. I have one almost every morning. It pumps me up. Plus when it’s so hot outside it makes me feel like I can walk through the disgusting DC air to get going with my day.
Andre: Me lately it’s been waking up and having a hot tea. Getting the voce ready.
Sophie: Get that air conditioning going.
Andre: My ac’s already on. But I have a hot tea, then I go for a four mile run. Just so I can get my energy up this morning. It doesn’t happen often, maybe every other day? Once every third day? I’m trying to keep the stamina up!
There is some serious food love happening in this show. What are Andre and Sophie’s favorite comfort foods and are they different from Seaweed and Penny’s favorite comfort foods?
Andre: Oh that’s hard!
Sophie: My favorite comfort food is Matzah Ball Soup but definitely only made by my grandmother. I don’t think Penny’s Jewish, so I don’t think that’s her comfort food. I think it’s something really 60’s like a milkshake. Maybe she is Jewish. Wait, no, she’s probably not Jewish. Pingleton sounds Jewish, but they’re too racist. Most Jews, especially in the 60’s? Very liberal. So I think we’re going to say milkshake. She’s into the whipped cream, sprinkles, all that.
Andre: Andre’s comfort food is without a doubt chicken wings. I can eat them morning, noon, and night. I know Darren (actor Darren McDonnell, character-track, Edna u/s) said the same thing. But me and Darren have bonded over Hip Hop Chicken & Fish.
Sophie: I keep hearing about this. Where is it?
Andre: They are everywhere. There are a few in Baltimore, there’s one right down the street from where I live in Glen Burnie.
Sophie: I don’t think it has come to DC yet.
Andre: Well it needs to come to DC. I think Seaweed’s comfort food is sweets. His mom is always baking and cooking something nice.
Sophie: Like that pecan pie?
Andre: Yes! Pecan pie. Or oooh! Chocolate cake. Maybe chocolate pecan pie cake. His mom always has a big ass spread of food laid out somewhere.
Sophie: The darker the chocolate…
Andre: You know?
Speaking of chocolate, are you chocolate people?
Sophie: Yes! But I only like chocolate itself. I don’t like chocolate cake very much, and I do not like chocolate ice cream at all.
Andre: I love chocolate brownies.
Sophie: I do like brownies.
Andre: I am all about a brownie. Little Debbie’s brownies. So much about the brownies. BROWNIES. I’m all about the chocolate. Oh, and I love white chocolate too.
Sophie: Nope. That’s funny though, that I don’t like white chocolate and you do.
Are you both Maryland born or near enough to it?
Andre: Actually DC but I’ve lived in Maryland most of my life.
Sophie: I’m actually from California, but I moved here for college and then I left for a while and now I’m back.
How do we feel about dem crabs, hon?
Andre: All. Day. LONG!
Sophie: I’m a vegetarian and I keep Kosher. I don’t think I’ve ever had crab. I had lobster once I think? But I don’t really remember so I don’t think that counts.
Andre: Oh no. See, I’m a huge seafood person in the first place. So picking crabs— I mean there better be crabs at our cast party. I need newspapers, I need butter, I need Old Bay! I used to do the back end of a butter knife but I have to use the crab mallet now because I cut myself really, really badly one time and I have never been able to use the knife again. I’m that person that if it happens once— nope! Never again.
What does “you can’t stop the beat” mean to you personally?
Andre: Oh jeez. Such a profound question. You can’t stop the beat. Are we talking figuratively or literally?
Sophie: Figuratively, right?
However you would like to interpret it.
Andre: Hmm. I think it literally means you can’t stop the beat. Think about it. By the time we get to the end of the show, everyone has come into their own. Everyone has this nice solid train going either with themselves or with someone else, so you really can’t stop what’s about to happen. And the best thing to do is to live with it and embrace it. Or you can sit down and completely muddle in the corner and go all woe-is-me like the Von Tussles.
Sophie: I think it’s both you can’t hold me down— you can’t stop me and what I want and my goals because I’m going to get them— but also this world is changing and you have to change with it. We’re getting progressive, and you better keep up!
Andre: Doesn’t Corny say something like that? “Times are changing?”
What would you say doing this show has taught you about yourself?
Andre: Confidence in my case. I was really, really insecure when I got offered the part. It was funny, when our production manager called to offer me the part I said, “Are you sure?” And her response was, “Why? Is everything okay? Do you have a conflict?” And I said, “No, I don’t have a conflict, I just want to be sure you are okay with this decision— because this is what you are going to get when you sign up Andre Hinds.”
Sophie: I think for me it was confidence as well, I learned that I could do a lot more than I thought I could. I learned that theatre can be a force of change. I know that, obviously, but doing it at this time it reiterates that for me. There was one night in particular with this show because of what was happening in the outside world that made that night one of the most visceral experiences I have ever had on stage. I know I can’t go out and do everything that I would like to do. I can’t walk into the White House and shout, “Here’s the plan, you all!” But I can tell this story every day and hope that somebody is listening.
Andre: Absolutely. That’s all you really can do, especially with everything that’s going on. If one person feels just an ounce of compassion from what we put out there on that stage then I feel like we’ve done our job.
What’s your favorite moment or the moment that really defines the show for you?
Andre: Hmm. See that’s hard. It’s a toss-up. My favorite moment for the show as a whole? “I Know Where I’ve Been.” Just being a part of that whole movement and just listening to Motor Mouth sing. I recently went to a friend’s mother’s funeral. The beginning of the progression started off with “I Know Where I’ve Been.” There were a few Toby’s people there, and just hearing those chords play and then hearing the words, immediately I was unable to control myself. That changed my performance for myself the next day. And then we had someone in the cast’s grandmother just passed away so that added on another layer to that for me. And then there was that week where someone was shot this day, someone was shot the next day, there was a random hanging in Georgia, and it was absolutely madness. That show changed for us that night. You couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by everyone’s presence on stage in that moment.
The other moment is “Without Love.” I love coming in with a switchblade. As I rescue this white girl right here from her house and her nasty ass momma.
Sophie: I would say either “I Know Where I’ve Been” or…I just love Noelle’s (actress Noelle Robinson, playing Little Inez) solo in “Run and Tell That.” I mean, I love all of “Run and Tell That”? But she’s a little firecracker! She’s also just the best kid. She’s really down to earth.
Andre: She’s awesome.
Sophie: She’s got a great mix of confidence and humility. She’s so fun. I sit next to her in the dressing room and she is just the best child. I love her a lot. That week that that was so crazy with all the shootings— I just kept looking at her and thinking “we have to make it better for her.” She is so beautiful and wonderful. When she sings her little solo and just busts out, I’m doing my happy dance in my head for her.
Andre: She is now blood. Ever since the very first rehearsal that we had with her, and her mom was there, I said to her mother, “Don’t worry about her. From this point on— number one you have an entire cast that will back her up— and number two I am here and she is now blood to me.” I am going to her birthday on September 30th…I actually have to sneak out to go to her party. But I love her so much!
What do you want people to walk away with after they see Hairspray?
Andre: I hope they have a good time, obviously. Every song in the show builds and builds and builds and builds. It’s one energy hopper to another. By the time you get to “You Can’t Stop the Beat?” Kaboom! For me it’s so exciting to see the people in the audience actually grooving in their chairs. And if you can get up and dance for the time we get to bows? Please. PLEASE dance! If we can get people out of their seats by the end of it? That’s the best part for me.
Sophie: I hope people see that we’re better when we are united and accepting of everybody. Everyone has something to offer and you should never judge anyone based on what they look like— not skin color, not size. Get to know a person.
Why should people come and see Hairspray?
Andre: I mean, first of all, we’re in it. I’m so biased. Our cast is exciting. Our cast sounds amazing. It’s just a fucking good night of fun. It really is. From the time you walk through the doors, to the time you get your plate— have a few drinks get ‘The Cootie’— right through to when we have you up dancing in your seats at the end, it’s just such a great time. I mean everyone’s energy is already up and hopping before we even get on stage to do the show.
Sophie: It’s two and a half hours of pure fun. And it’s still relevant so why not come and see it? It’s just a joy to do. If it’s half as fun to see as it is for us to do? Then people are definitely going to have a good time.
To read the TheatreBloom review of Hairspray, click here.
To read Part 1 of the You Can’t Stop the Beat interview series featuring Coby Kay Callahan and Darren McDonnell, click here.
To read Part 2 of the You Can’t Stop the Beat interview series featuring Samantha McEwen Deininger and Renata Hammond, click here.
To read Part 3 of the You Can’t Stop the Beat interview series featuring Heather Marie Beck and Gabriella DeLuca, click here.