by The International Thespian Cast Production

Following up on last year’s tremendous success with a national cast for Thoroughly Modern Millie, the 2008 Thespian Festival hit the stage with another Tony winner for Best Musical: Hairspray. And they’ve scored another tremendous success. 

Director Vance Fulkerson, musical theatre program director at the University of Northern Colorado, once directed the national Broadway tour of Hair, so it seems a cinch moving on to Hairspray. But how can it be a cinch when you’re bringing actors from all over the country together for about a dozen rehearsals before going live? No problem for this group of talented actors, directors, and techies.  

Set in Baltimore during the early 1960s, the story tells the tale of Tracy Turnblad, a teenage girl who dreams of dancing on The Corny Collins Show, Baltimore’s own television dance show. But she’s meeting some resistance from a mom-and-daughter prima donna pair who poke fun at Tracy’s weight. And she’s getting even more resistance when she wants to integrate the television show, eliminating the one-day-a-month “Negro Day” and making every day “Negro Day.”  

New Albany (Indiana) High School’s dynamic Sydney Magers leads the way as the bubbly but determined Tracy Turnblad with a huge crush on the dancing star of The Corny Collins Show, Link Larkin (yes, there is a lot of alliteration in the cast list of Hairspray). Sydney sports a great voice, groovy dance moves, and strong comedy. Physically strong comedy as she makes her interest in Link quite apparent while he sings It Takes Two and she intertwines herself around him in a variety of hilarious ways, eventually being slowly dragged off the stage with her firmly attached to his leg, the smooth vocals of Las Vegas Academy’s Jeff Zicker never wavering as he tries to take the molestation by his #1 fan in stride. 

The cast is full of great performances. Mr. Corey Thompson from Newnan High School in Georgia is a riotous hit as Tracy’s big-boned and big-bosomed mother Edna who initially tries to talk Tracy out of following her dreams for fear of Tracy getting hurt, but then embraces Tracy’s dreams fully as Edna sees her daughter achieving those dreams and shooting for even larger ones. Tracy and Edna team up to lead the great Welcome to the 60s number, and Edna teams up with her/his husband Wilbur (fantastic performance as the lovable nerdy and sentimental dad by Jacob Porter from Council Rock High School South in Holland, Pennsylvania) for their charming duet Timeless

And then you’ve got Tracy’s friends led by Allyssa Schmitt (Arroyo Grande High School in California) as a singularly goofy Penny Pingleton who speaks with such crazed exuberance you almost need to borrow the subtitle display from last year’s Thoroughly Modern Millie, but you laugh regardless of whether you caught every word. She gets thoroughly love-struck when she meets Tracy’s new friend, the African-American dance star Seaweed Stubbs, with Las Vegas Academy’s Julian Crider turning in an excellent performance and some fantastic dancing as Seaweed. It all works for Penny who, having once tasted chocolate, says she’s never going back. But how is that going to go over when her uptight, prudish mother (Las Vegas Academy’s Rebecca Stewart) walks in to find Penny gorging herself on some dessert? Well, you’ll find out at the end of the show, but it’s worth the wait. 

And then you’ve got Tracy’s enemies led by the mother-and-daughter duo Velma von Tussle and Amber von Tussle – a couple of ambitious, racist, skin-deep beauty queens. Natalie Wisener from Cactus High School in Glendale, Arizona is Velma, an amusing mother of all divas who can belt it out with venom. Molly Brynteson from Greeley West High School in Colorado is her lovely daughter Amber who wants the boy and the crown and has been raised to feel entitled to both. Her character Amber clearly can’t match Tracy Turnblad in talent and genuine charisma on The Corny Collins Show, but Molly Brynteson definitely has star power in real life.  

A few other standouts include Brad Frenette (Stevenson High School in Michigan) as the slick Corny Collins with a wide grin, Josh Houghton (Ashland High School in Oregon) as the awkward-on-camera show sponsor Harriman F. Spritzer, Amy Lamken (Bothell High School in Washington) as a quirky prison Matron who likes to paddle butts with her baton, Matthew Palmitier (Jenison High School in Michigan) as the eccentric owner of the “quality clothes for quantity gals” store, and the truly dynamite “Dynamite” trio (Katherine Thomas, Aisha Jackson, and Tia Pinson) who lend their fantastic vocals to Welcome to the 60s. Not to mention the fantastic vocals of Little Inez (Tarshiba Clark from Miami Northwest High School) and Motormouth Maybelle, featuring a sensational performance by Tetrianna Silas of Tri-Cities High School in Atlanta who nails both the character and the vocals, making the Civil Rights Movement tribute I Know Where I’ve Been one of the greatest highlights of the show. 

Vincent Scassellati’s array of 60s-era costumes, created by Kansas City Costume, are most impressive and add a lot to the show. Scenic Designer Marie Davis-Green has it all looking professional. Monte Black’s choreography is both fun and hip. Wig Designer Warren Holz made a few tons worth of great 60s wigs. Diretor Vance Fulkerson adds some big hearts to all the big hair – big, dark pink hearts held by the ensemble that unfold as Tracy reveals her love, eventually being flipped to spell out Tracy’s crush on Link, and finally popping out strings of confetti. Vance’s ensemble of talented youth performers from all four corners of the United States sing, dance, and act their roles with style and humor, from Good Morning Baltimore to one of the best closing numbers ever – You Can’t Stop the Beat. And the way they do it, nobody in their right mind would ever want to.

Performed June 24, 2008.

Photos by Roger Bruhn Photography:

Rob Hopper
Executive Director
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~

Tracy Turnblad: Sydney Magers
Corny Collins: Brad Frenette
Edna: Corey Thompson
Penny Pingleton: Allyssa Schmitt
Velma Von Tussle: Natalie Wisener
Amber Von Tussle: Molly Brynteson
Link Larkin: Jeff Zicker
Seaweed Stubbs: Julian Crider
Little Inez: Tarshiba Clark
Motormouth Maybelle: Tetrianna Silas
Wilbur: Jacob Porter
Prudy Pingleton: Rebecca Stewart
Mr. Pinky: Matthew Palmitier
Gym Teacher, Matron: Amy Lamken
Harriman F. Spritzer: Josh Houghton
Gilbert: Jamard Richardson
Stooie: Lamont Whitaker
Lorraine: Alexandria Payne
Duane: Jon Shockness
Thad: Joseph Maddox
Jax: Nicholas R. Burroughs
Toby: Travis Peterson
Muffie: Jenna Moll-Reyes
Tammy: Marlea Jenkins
Brenda: Olivia Cope
Susie: Brenna Larsen
Shelley: Kelley Peters
Lou Ann: Alexis Turbin
Brad: Sam Lips
Fender: Davey Rosenberg
Sketch: Jordan Campbell
IQ: Daniel Berryman
Tad: Taylor Recktenwald
Dynamite: Katherine Thomas
Dynamite: Aisha Jackson
Dynamite: Tia Pinson

Director: Vance Fulkerson
Production Manager and Acting Coach: Mary Schuttler
Choreographer: Monte Black
Technical Director: Kevin Bautch
Scenic Designer: Marie Davis-Green
Costume Designer: Vincent Scassellati
Costumes provided by Kansas City Costume
Makeup and Wig Designer: Warren Holz
Lighting Designer: Brian Hapcic
Sound Designer: Mark Payne
Music and Choral Director: Emily Moss


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