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'Hairspray' set to shine at Peoria Players

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Jeremy Kelly has performed in the musical “Hairspray” before, portraying Link Larkin sat another theatre’s production in 2011. He remembers well how much fun the musical can be, with its upbeat music and dance and comedic dialogue.

But that was not the chief reason he decided to accept the invitation to direct “Hairspray” at Peoria Players Theatre this spring. It was the story behind the fun that drew him in, he said.

“The story of this show is loving yourself, no matter what size or color or anything else you happen to be. Each of us is a special person and this show brings out that message,” Kelly said. “On the surface people probably think just about the fun stuff, but once they really know the story they see how special ‘Hairspray’ is, and that is what I wanted to bring to the cast and help them bring that to our audience.”

That will happen starting Friday at 7:30 p.m. when “Hairspray” opens an eight-show run at Peoria Players, 4300 N. University St. Tickets are $19 for adults and $12 for students and can be purchased by visiting www.peoriaplayers.org or by calling 688-4473. Several performance are already sold out.

“Hairspray” tells the story of plump teen-ager Tracy Turnblad’s dream of one day dancing on the Corny Collins TV dance program in 1962. When she lands a role on the show, she sets out to integrate it, running up against opposition at a time when racism was a large part of American society.

The book for the show was written by Marc O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman. It is based on the 1988 John Waters film by the same name.

Songs in the show include “Good Morning Baltimore,” “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,” “I Can Hear the Bells,” “Big, Blonde and Beautiful,” “You’re Timeless to Me,” “I Know Where I’ve Been,” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”

“Hairspray” won eight Tony Awards in 2003, including Best Musical.

Kelly said he was pumped about “Hairspray” and the cast and didn’t bother to pardon the pun.

“We have 55 people ranging in age 13 to mid-60s and they are about as diverse a cast as you could think of. They all come from different backgrounds but we come together for rehearsals and have a great time doing this show. It has been a great experience,” said Kelly, who is directing his first mainstage show for Peoria Players. He has directed “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Eastlight Theatre and the children’s theatre production of “All Shook Up.”

He said performing, which he has done many times is very different from directing but that each has its high point. “There are certainly more and different responsibilities with directing, but it also is fun to get the show to the end product then sit back and watch it unfold before an audience. With this cast, I can’t wait,” he said.

The cast includes many local community theatre veterans, but the main character is making her Peoria stage debut.

Samantha Dean, a sophomore at Bradley University who hails from the Chicago area, is portraying Tracy Turnblad. She has only done two or three musicals before this and didn’t even start singing until late in high school, Kelly said.

“You’d never believe that to see her on stage. She seems very seasoned and professional,” he said.

Kelly stuck with the tradition of casting a male in the role of Tracy’s mother, Edna Turnblad. Trev Neff fills the role at Peoria Players, with fellow theatre veteran Nate Downs portraying Edna’s put-upon husband Wilbur. “The duo that Trev and Nate have become is fantastic. I love watching them,” Kelly said.

He praised the comedic timing and acting abilities of Michelle Rouland as Velma Von Tussle, Susan Hazzard as Penny Pingleton and Amy Wycoff as Prudy Pingleton and the powerful and emotional voice of Valerie Kelley, who portrays Motormouth Maybelle.

Also noteworthy, he added, are the performances of Adam Raso as Corny Collins, Stephen White Jr. as Seaweed, Kate Donlan as Amber Von Tussle and Colin Evers as Link.

“I know I can’t mention everyone in the cast but they all do a wonderful job. I can’t wait for audiences to see them” Kelly said.

Showtimes for “Hairspray” are 7:30 p.m. on May 6, 7, 11, 12, 13 and 14 and 2 p.m. on May 8 and 15.pray

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).