DHS announces ‘Hairspray’ cast for April date

Published 7:12 pm Tuesday, December 14, 2010

In preparation for the first production in Demopolis’ new performing arts center, the high school has unveiled the cast list for its spring musical, Hairspray.

Given that the production will be the first in the new facility, director Jody White opened the auditions up to alumni as well as current students.

“Anybody that is in the show is either a current student, a teacher or an alumnus,” White said. “We wanted to make this first production in there open to more than just current students.”

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White said the decision was made as a way of thanking the contributors over the years who have helped the department achieve a level of success which merited a new auditorium.

The audition process began approximately three weeks ago and concluded with casting announcements last week.

“This was the longest audition process we’ve ever had,” White said. “There is so much choreography, we wanted to make sure the students were proficient in movement. They have to be really good singers because they are going to have to sing and dance throughout this whole show. It is going to be a physical workout for these kids.”

The casting process also began earlier than normal because of the intense nature of the rehearsals themselves.

“We cast earlier than we normally do because the rehearsals for this will be so demanding,” White said.

Rehearsals will begin next semester and will run approximately two hours at a time for three days a week.

But amid all the complexities of the casting process for Hairspray, the most sensitive issue dealt directly with race. According to White, Demopolis High School always employs blind casting for its shows, a method that gives no consideration to a student’s race when deciding roles for productions.

However, the nature of Hairspray’s story prevented such a practice for this production.

“Normally we don’t pay attention to race in casting, but we have to be more specific with this play,” White said. “It has really changed the rhetoric we use. We normally don’t speak in such racially-divisive terms, but for this show we have to just face it head on and really address what the issues were at that time.”

The story revolves around Tracy Turnblad, who teaches 1962 Baltimore about integration and tolerance after landing a spot on a popular teen dance show.

The central character will be portrayed by Sydney Hill. Other key characters include Penny Pingleton, who will be played by Maggie Spiller. Jill Tutt will portray Velma Von Tussel while Taylor Hunnicutt plays Amber Von Tussel. David Tutt will tackle the role of Link Larkin while Kenneth Collins handles Seaweed Stubbs, one of the more dynamic characters in the script.

“He is really new to us and we were very pleasantly surprised,” White said of Collins.

While Corny Collins and Motormouth Maybell have yet to be revealed, John Brown will play the role of Edna Turnblad.

The mother of the main character, Edna is always portrayed by a male performer. In the 2007 film version of Hairspray, John Travolta crossed genders to play the role.

“He has been musical director for us for every musical we’ve had at Demopolis High School,” White said of Brown. “He is a professional operatic tenor in addition to being a great musical director. We are thrilled to have him as part of this production.”

The cast will be aided by Alisha Lay, the choreographer and one of the directors of the Actors Charitable Theater. The ACT was the first group in Alabama to perform Hairspray, allowing Lay some keen insights to provide to the DHS production.

“We feel like she is bringing a tremendous amount of experience with the play to our production,” White said.

The production will open in April.