'Hairspray' opens Friday at Corn Stock

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There is a line in the musical "Hairspray" in which one character refers to Tracy Turnblad as "a breath of fresh air."

That's exactly how Holly Haines hopes Corn Stock Theatre audiences feel about her once they see her performance as Tracy in the show that opens Friday and continues through July 21 under the tent in Upper Bradley Park. (Opening night is already sold out and the first weekend may be sold out soon.)

(Photo courtesy of Corn Stock Theatre) Holly Haines portrays Tracy Turnblad in the Corn Stock Theatre production of "Hairspray," which opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. and continues through July 21. Tracy Turnblad is Haines' first lead role outside of high school and it's a chance to showcase her considerable talent.

"I hope I surprise people with my performance. I think I will. It's been so much fun," Haines said just before a recent dress rehearsal.

"Of course it's the role of a lifetime for me. I've wanted to play this role or at least be in this show since I watched it win the Tony Award (in 2003), which was the first time I really heard the music. It's phenomenal," she said.

On the other end of the spectrum in the show with a cast of more than 100 is Bob Parkhurst. He has displayed his talents on local community theatre stages for many years, most recently as the dark and dangerous "Sweeney Todd" at Corn Stock's Winter Playhouse and a few years ago as the loud and swaggering Gaston in "Beauty and the Beast."

In "Hairspray," Parkhurst dons a dress for the first time in his stage career to play Edna Turnblad, Tracy's bigger-than-life mother in a role written specifically for a man to play a woman.

"Oh my gosh, I did not have any intention of playing this role when I came to auditions. But I was asked to do it and I am glad I did. Edna is such an endearing character," Parkhurst said while adjusting his ... well, his costume before heading out on stage. "It really is my first time doing anything in drag, but once I got over the fear of putting on a dress it has been a lot of fun."

Parkhurst has much of his family in the show, as well. His wife Jenny, daughter Pauline and his father-in-law Vic Burnett also are in the cast.(Photo courtesy of Corn Stock Theatre) Bob Parkhurst, left, portrays Edna Turnblad and Gene Bourke is Wilbur is the Corn Stock Theatre production of "Hairspray."

Parkhurst spoke about the cast and crew in making it a fun show, but added it is even more special because of the story line, which works to throw out age-old prejudices about race and size. "You have these crazy animated characters swirling around Tracy, and then you realize this is a touching story about acceptance. It is special," he said.

That story is a chief reason Pam Orear wanted to direct "Hairspray" at Corn Stock. She said she knew she wanted to direct the show after getting the opportunity to see it on Broadway.

"Not only did it leave me feeling happy, I was moved by it. It had a beautiful meaning to it. It was inspiring. I knew it was something I wanted to do," she said.

Another factor, she said, is that "Hairspray" gives a larger girl the chance for a lead role, something you normally don't see in musicals. Not surprising, Orear had a large turnout at auditions for Tracy and besides choosing Haines for the role was able to use some of the other girls in other roles.

Orear said she was taken with Haines from the start. "Not only is she an unbelievable talent, she has developed a sensitivity in this character that I didn't realize was even there. She gets it, the subtlety and the message, and does a wonderful job bringing it out in her character," she said.

Directing "Hairspray" at Corn Stock, she said, means some of the over-the-top zaniness could be toned down and the message still come through. "At the tent we are so close to the audience things don't get lost like they sometimes do when you're sitting way back," she said.

At the same time, the energy from her cast is electric. "The music is definitely what drives that energy. It's got a beat that gets that cast going and it last for two hours. And even then they just want to keep going. It is electric and they all have such a great sense of working together and playing off each other. They have this desire to produce the best show they can and still have fun. It's working," Orear said.

She also gave much credit to Lindsey Perenchio for choreography "that is simply amazing" and helps boost the energy of everybody in the show. "Lindsey challenged them and they responded," Orear said.(Photo courtesy of Corn Stock Theatre) Jasmyne Providence sings in her role as Motormouth is the Corn Stock Theatre production of "Hairspray."

Orear is known for directing big musicals, such as "Beauty and the Beast" and "Les Miserables" junior edition, that have big sets. This time, the set is rather simple, at least in appearance. The back wall is a wall of LED lights that change color at the push of a button and can be programmed to keep with the music.

It helps keep the show moving even when the scene changes and there are a lot of scene changes in "Hairspray." Sets pieces are not cumbersome and can be loved in and out quickly.

"This show needs to be bright and colorful and the LED wall does that. And it keeps the characters the showpiece, not the set," she said.

Other cast members include Gene Bourke as Wilbur Turnblad; Taylor Nieman as Penny Pingleton; Brian McKinley as Seaweed Stubbs; Mitch Connolly as Link Larkin; Jasmyne Providence; Tim Drew as Corny Collins; Laura Schelly as Velma Von Tussle; Lauren Deppe as Amber Von Tussle, and Rochelle Adade as Little Inez.  

"Hairspray" starts at 7:30 p.m. each night of the run. Tickets, which are selling fast, are $18 for adults and $12 for students. They can be reserved by calling 676-2196.

Paul Gordon is editor of The Peorian. He can be reached at 692-7880 or editor@thepeorian.com

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).