From the time it first aired in 1988 on the big screen, John Water's "Hairspray" has had an iconic journey. The 1960s dance-style musical opened on Broadway in 2004 and earned eight Tony awards from 13 nominations. Now theater patrons can see what all the excitement is about when "Hairspray" opens at the San Diego Repertory Theatre on July 17. And, for the first time in local theater history, high school students from the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) join professional actors in the production.
Del Mar's Stacey Hardke is part of the cast. She earned a B.A. in theater arts from USD, and studied acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, National Theater Institute, Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center's National Playwrights Conference and National Music Theatre Conference. She said this production follows the theme of the Broadway show and two movies (the latest with John Travolta in 2007), but is somewhat different.
"This production has a unique spin in that the directors were interested in creating their own influences around what was written," she said. "The choreography is entirely new staging, and it's a whirlwind experience."
The play is about Tracy (Bethany Slomka), a somewhat typical teen who is overweight and crazy about a TV dance program. Tracy wants to dance on the show, but doesn't have the look producers want on TV.
Hardke plays Tracy's best friend, Penny. Most of the characters in the play are lively singers and dancers who wear ambition on their foreheads like a bandana. Hardke, who has appeared in more serious plays such as "The New Century," "Songs For A New World" and "First Lady Suite," had to get into an entirely new character in "Hairspray."
"I'm trying to give myself permission to be as geeky as possible," she said with a soft laugh. "As a young woman in theater, I'm usually trying to be elegant, sexy and professional, but Penny is youthful, focused and geeky. She's immature and naïve, so it's fun and a vacation from all the worry of characters I've previously played."
"Hairspray" is directed by San Diego REP Artistic Director Sam Woodhouse with assistance from SCPA Artistic Director Richard Trujillo. Hardke said she enjoyed working with Woodhouse and choreographer Javier Velasco.
"Sam was intimidating at first because he's such a strong leader, but it's soon clear he has everyone's best interest at heart and is a good collaborator," she said. "I admire his ability to multitask, motivate and discipline at the same time. Javier is so patient and creative, and it's incredible to watch him try new things and interpret this play in a new way."
"Hairspray" tackles some serious subjects as Tracy is transformed from outsider to teen celebrity, but it's done in a fun way. Audiences always get a kick that Tracy's mom, Edna, is played by a man. Peter Van Norden ("Hamlet," SD Rep's "A Christmas Carol") takes on that outrageous role. Other cast members include Pam Trotter (Motormouth Maybelle), Leigh Scarritt (Velma von Tussle) and Steve Gunderson (Wilbur Turnblad).
Hardke credits the local theater community for helping her realize that she wanted to act professionally.
"Seeing shows around San Diego in smaller theaters was a huge part of my education as an artist because I felt like I could be a part of that one day. Then after seeing shows at theaters with bigger budgets, it still somehow felt possible. There seemed to be a lot of people who had dedicated their lives to theater in San Diego, and I wanted to be part of that community," she said.
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