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Hairspray cast member visits DHS

As Demopolis students readied to become the first high school in the state of Alabama to perform Hairspray, they got to visit with one of the show’s original cast members earlier this week.

Thanks to a favor from William Gantt, the show’s cast and other theater students were able to take the opportunity to sit down with Joel Vig, who played a number of characters in the original Broadway production of Hairspray.

“William Gantt approached me about the Southern Literary Trail and having my students participate in that,” Demopolis High School theater teacher Jody White said of how the opportunity to meet with Vig came about.

Gantt enlisted White’s students to do a dramatic reading of the Tennessee Williams’ classic The Glass Menagerie at the Demopolis Public Library as part of the Southern Literary Trail’s observance of the playwright’s 100th birthday.

While the students will make good on their end of that deal Saturday at 11 a.m., Gantt and Vig were at the Demopolis High School library Monday afternoon where the latter regaled students with tails of time spent on Broadway.

“I thought having him here was such a phenomenal opportunity for the students and me,” White said. “He was able to provide so much insight into what it is like to be on Broadway.”

Vig told the students stories of now famous celebrities such as Glee star Matthew Morrison, Natalie Portman and Britney Spears, who all spent time with the Broadway production.

He spoke of experiences with Harvey Fierstein and Dick Latessa, and the intricacies and difficulties of putting on such productions.

Amid all of the stories, Vig was able to bring a handful of meaningful lessons to the young actors that White hopes will continue to be useful to the students.

“He was able to talk about how you do not always get a lot of stage time when you are an understudy,” White said. “He talked about how every show is important.”

White pointed out that Vig’s words regarding the show’s message were particularly important given the nature of Hairspray’s content.

“The message of the show is tolerance for everyone,” White said. “I think that whole concept of making sure every show you do is as important as the message of the show was really good for us.”

Vig portrayed the principal, Mr. Spritzer, Mr. Pinky, the Policeman and the Flasher during the show’s original Broadway run.

His experiences with the production and the delicate nature of its content allowed him to provide a unique perspective to students tackling the material for the first time.

“Hairspray really is, in its own way, sort of subversive,” Vig told the students in attendance. “I think it is really sort of thrilling that you are doing the play.”

Vig told the group that he was also impressed with the fact that they were able to play characters not unlike themselves.

“You are high school students playing high school students,” Vig said.

“I think that (the students) were very interested, intimidated and excited,” White said, noting the passion with which Vig spoke to the group. “That’s something you notice about a true professional is that you can see that there is nothing else they could possibly do other than that.”

The Demopolis High School production of Hairspray is scheduled to begin dress rehearsals April 2 with the show set to open Thursday, April 7.