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Baldwin Drama Club members get ready for 'Hairspray'

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Edna Turnblad, played by senior Greg Arcuri, practices his lines during rehearsal for Baldwin High School's production of 'Hairspray.'
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Edna Turnblad, played by senior Greg Arcuri, and Tracy Turnblad, played by senior Maggie Brooks, practice their lines while in the women's penitentiary during rehearsal for Baldwin High School's production of 'Hairspray.'
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Penny Pingleton, played by junior Katie Sabo (left), and Little Inez, played by senior Ashley Czerniewski, sing while in the women's penitentiary during rehearsal for Baldwin High School's production of 'Hairspray.'
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Edna Turnblad, played by senior Greg Arcuri (left), threatens the penitentiary matron, played by junior Kalee George, after Edna's daughter is left behind at the women's penitentiary during rehearsal for Baldwin High School's production of 'Hairspray.'
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Link Larkin, played by senior Robert Murray, breaks Tracy Turnbald, played by senior Maggie Brooks, out of the women's penitentiary during rehearsal for Baldwin High School's production of 'Hairspray.'

Teenagers, whether in 1962 or 2013, face issues of body image, race, gender, authority and, of course, the burning question: “Does my hair look good?”

All of those elements come together through song and dance in the Baldwin High School drama club production of “Hairspray,” which will run at 1 p.m. April 14 and at 7 p.m. from April 17 to 20 in the performing arts center.

“Hairspray” is the upbeat story of Tracy Turnblad, a white teenage girl living in 1960s Baltimore, who becomes an overnight star when she's cast in local television dance show. Tracy and her friends launch a campaign to integrate the show in the middle of the civil-rights movement, proving that “you can't stop the beat.”

“It's just so much fun and everyone knows “Hairspray,” said Maggie Brooks, who plays Tracy. “It just makes you smile once you hear the music.”

Behind the costumes, lights, songs and dancing is the message of acceptance, one that Kris Tranter, the show's director and music teacher at Baldwin High School, said he has been trying to make happen for about three years. Tranter chose “Hairspray” to create more diversity among the students in the drama club.

“We're going through the principles of the story line,” Tranter said. “That's really why we chose it.”

Issues with the show's rights and working out rehearsal and transportation issues with Baldwin-Whitehall administrators were key factors that came along with a larger and more diverse cast, Tranter said.

“We kind of called it the Hairspray Project,” Tranter said. “Transportation was a big issue.”

Once the show received the green light, Tranter recruited students and handed out invitations to get-to-know-you events with the drama club, he said. The recruitment worked, too, because the cast, which normally has around 55 students, has 79 this year.

The cast had educational discussions throughout the months of rehearsals about the civil-rights movement, Tranter said. They also discussed what cliques — whether because of popularity, extracurricular activities, race, economics, intelligence, beauty, etc. — are like at Baldwin in 2013.

“We try to get them to understand what it was like back then in the 1960s,” Tranter said.

Brooks said that effort to bring in new students and make them feel at home isn't lost on seasoned veterans such as her.

“I love it. I think it's awesome,” Brooks said. “I'm so excited to have all of these new people … we all have so much fun together.

Brooks and Eve Jolo, who plays Motormouth Maybelle, one of the black characters involved in the integration effort, both said that before this year's show, they would walk down the high school's hallways in their own bubbles, with their own friends, and never venture outside of the normal.

“Hairspray” is the first musical for which Jolo ever auditioned, and she was surprised to land a lead role. She said she is trying new things during her senior year such as joining the school's newspaper, The Purbalite, and the musical.

“I feel like if I'm going to leave, I'm going to leave with a bang,” Jolo said. “Our generation is more open-minded. If you can get one or two people to join you, it's a party.”

Almin Haggert, one of the Dynamites in the show, said watching the 2007 movie version of “Hairspray” made her want to audition. Her experience in the musical made her confident enough to join the high school's track and field team too, she said.

“It changes my mood when I come here,” Haggert said. “It's a lot more fun coming to school this year … I already told everyone I'm coming back next year.”

Confidence never was a problem for Greg Arcuri, who plays Edna, Tracy's mother, a role traditionally played in drag. But the message of acceptance is an important one for him.

“I absolutely love the role,” Arcuri said. “A lot of people are self-conscious … about really anything. You should never have to hide who you really are.”

Still Brooks and Haggert come back to the really important message of the show – good hair. Both girls said they are excited to wear their outrageous wigs.

“They're too funny,” Brooks said.

Laura Van Wert is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5814 or at lvanwert@tribweb.com.

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