Brynn Hansen was warned there might be casting challenges to producing the beloved musical “Hairspray” in Loudoun. But the community theater director felt that the play was timely and important, and decided to give it a shot.
Produced by Loudoun Centre Theatre, a relative newcomer to the local arts scene, “Hairspray” runs for its second weekend at Franklin Park Performing Arts Center Feb. 12 and 13, after a sellout performance last weekend.
The musical, set in 1960s Baltimore, is a perennial audience favorite: A fun show with a serious message. “Hairspray” tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a plump teen who achieves her dream of appearing on “The Corny Collins Show,” a local TV dance show. She becomes an instant celebrity and uses her fame to launch a campaign to integrate the show.
Based on the 1988 John Waters film, the show features a diverse cast, and producers were warned that they might have trouble filling some roles. As with many community theaters, LCT has found that finding talented male actors in general can be tough, and in Northern Virginia, finding actors of color can be equally challenging.
“We knew going into this that it might be a little difficult, but we really wanted to do this show,” Hansen said. “We wanted to tell people there’s still a need to accept people. There’s still a need to be conscious that these problems are not going away just because the ’60s are over.”
In the end, the play has been an opportunity for talented actors from around the region—including the cast’s African-American members. Michelle Chiles is a teacher who moved to Loudoun last year. For Chiles, who landed the role of Motormouth Maybelle—a Baltimore disc jockey and record shop owner—getting involved with LCT was a chance to get back into acting, a lifelong love, and meet people in her new community.
“It’s an opportunity to have a discussion and talk about how society was in the ’60s and how things have changed since then,” Chiles said.
But Hansen has had to make some minor adjustments because of casting challenges. Rob Smart stars as Seaweed Stubbs, Maybelle’s son who teaches Tracy some dance moves. The script calls for Seaweed to have an entourage of four guys, but in this production, he’s surrounded by girls (thanks to a shortage of male actors).
While casting for certain male roles was a challenge and required some hard core recruiting, casting the play’s female leads, meant choosing from a wealth of female talent.
The show provides a break-out opportunity for 16-year-old Cecilia Bracey of Lovettsville in the starring role. The competition was fierce for the role of Tracy (along with many of the other female roles), but Bracey fit the bill perfectly, said Brett Hansen, Brynn’s husband who serves as managing director of the nonprofit LCT.
“There were a lot of people who wanted to be Tracy … [Bracey] really stood out. She has a fantastic voice. She’s very energetic,” Brett Hansen said.
For Bracey, Tracy Turnblad is a “dream role,” and worth every minute of the six-days-a-week rehearsal schedule.
“It’s such a learning experience. I’ve learned so much from this production and the people in it. I think this production is really professional in the way that we’re being treated and the costumes we have and the people that are doing the production,” Bracey said.
The production features Sterling’s Amanda Holsinger, 18, as mean girl Amber Von Tussle, Leanna Hall of Winchester as Tracy’s mother Edna (who undergoes a transformation of her own), and DC-based actor Cam Sammartano as Link Larkin, the lead male dancer on “The Corny Collins Show” and Tracy’s love interest. Sammartano, who has performed in productions around the DC area, said he’s been impressed by the professionalism of the LCT team.
“The commute is a lot but I always say for the right role I’ll drive anywhere,” he said.
Loudoun Centre Theatre, run by the Hansens and the company’s founder Jeffrey Taylor, launched in 2012 and has performed nearly a dozen productions across the county over the past three years. The founders were looking to develop another source for high quality, family-oriented semi-professional community theater in the area. The company also operates a summer theater camp for young people.
And “Hairspray,” which sold out during its first Saturday run, appears to be raising the company’s profile while spreading the message of self-acceptance and inclusion.
“We watch Tracy and her mom come to accept who they are. There are so many
stereotypes in our world that are not fair, that are not necessary,” Brynn Hansen said. “That’s one thing I love about theater—you’ve got all these different people from all over the place and we’re all different but we get on that stage and we become a family.”
“Hairspray” runs Friday, Feb. 12, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 13, at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. at Franklin Park Arts Center. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door. For details and tickets go to franklinparkartscenter.org. For more information on Loudoun Centre Theatre, go to thelct.org.