Garner Cleveland Record

Students get a history lesson with ‘Hairspray’

Danelys Rivera, center, plays lead role Tracy Turnblad in the Garner High School production of “Hairspray.”
Danelys Rivera, center, plays lead role Tracy Turnblad in the Garner High School production of “Hairspray.”

Studying lines for an upcoming production of “Hairspray” has doubled as a history lesson for students at Garner High School.

After all, things are considerably different today than they were in 1962 Baltimore, where the integration-centered musical is set.

“They really didn’t know the history,” said theater director Cheryle Robinson Prater. “This day and time, these kids get along. They don’t see color; they really don’t.”

A cast of 65 – and 40 more in the orchestra and technical crew – has prepared since January for performances of the musical, set for March 16-18 at South Garner High School.

Keymonte Anderson, a senior playing one of the lead roles as Seaweed J. Stubbs, said learning about that time period had been eye-opening.

“It shows where we originated from and how much we’ve grown,” he said.

The musical uses imagery derived from blacks being denied access to front doors in the days of segregation.

“That front door is a blockade that keeps blacks and whites from coming together,” Anderson said. “We’ve really kicked in that front door, which is a verse from one of the songs. It’s really beautiful.”

Fitting the play’s message, Prater said, a particularly diverse group of 135 students auditioned in December. There were blacks and whites, of course, but also football, lacrosse and soccer players, along with dancers and actors.

“We’ve got every kind of kid up there,” Prater said. “That’s the beauty of Garner High School: the diversity.”

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Joining Prater in overseeing the production are choral director Sam Wanamaker, orchestra director Tyler Farrell and technical director Julie-Kate Hazelrigg.

Students Suzi Knabe and Beverly Horne choreographed the show, which, aside from Anderson’s part, features six other lead roles.

Danelys Rivera plays the outright lead role, Tracy Turnblad, the fame-seeking teen who works to integrate Corny Collins’ TV dance show. Rivera, a junior, has no prior ties to the theater scene.

“That part was a little scary,” Prater said, “But she really has a beautiful voice, and she read well. Whenever I give her a direction, she’s got it, and she never forgets it. She’s pretty amazing.”

Josh Warren dresses in drag as Tracy’s mom, Edna Turnblad, and Jack Dowles returns to acting for the first time in eight years to play heartthrob Link Larkin.

Mason Buck Spiers plays Penny Pingleton, Tracy’s best friend. Spiers said she and Rivera have become close friends off the stage.

“It’s all genuine – whatever we’re laughing about on stage is our real selves,” Spiers said.

Makaela Meador is convincing as the heartless Velma Von Tussle, the mother of equally cruel Amber Von Tussle, played by Joleigh Duty.

Duty has taken acting classes since middle school and was the lead in last year’s performance of “High School Musical.” She likes how “Hairspray” has real-world applications.

“It actually means something and has a really big impact on society and today’s issues,” Duty said. “It really hits hard, but it’s also really fun.”

In major supporting roles are Janee Thorpe as Motormouth Maybelle and Tanner Marshburn as TV show host Corny Collins.

The South Garner High School auditorium presents an opportunity for more exposure for the theater group. It seats 880, while the old Garner High auditorium held 280.

Garner High School presents ‘Hairspray’

When: 7 p.m. March 16-18.

Where: South Garner High School, 8228 Hebron Church Road, Garner.

Tickets: $10 at the door.