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'Hairspray' coming to State Theatre in Uniontown

Linda Harkcom | for Trib Total Media
Connellsville native John F. Wagner III gives direction to some cast members of “Hairspray.” Wagner is directing the musical that opens Friday and runs through Sunday at the State Theatre Center for the Arts in Uniontown. From left are (front) Lexie Rohlf, 19, of Brownsville; Brett Clark, 23, of Washington, D.C.; Jordan Hosfelt, 17, of Connellsville; Jeremy Lowery, 18, of Connellsville; Wagner; (middle) Kayla Grimm, 18, of Masontown; Ariadne Retzer, 18, of Uniontown; (back) Josh Mima, 15, of Belle Vernon.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Once again Connellsville native John F. Wagner III has come home to share his talent and experience.

Wagner, who lives in Union City, N.J., is a professional actor, dancer, director and choreographer. For the past two months, he has donned his director hat to bring the musical “Hairspray” to life on the stage at the State Theatre Center for the Arts in Uniontown this weekend.

This is Wagner's first time directing a full-length musical, but he has previous directing experience. Locally he has co-directed “The Nutcracker” with Darlene Trout at the Geyer Performing Arts Center in Scottdale for the past two years. He also is the regular choreographer for Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School's musicals.

“I knew the process and what needed to be done. Each project brings on its own unique challenges though,” Wagner said. “I like that with a musical you don't just have the text in the scenes to tell the story, you have song and dance to also tell the story. It's more layers that are added and it makes it more interesting for the audience.”

“Hairspray” is a musical based on the 1988 John Waters' film of the same name. Set in 1962, it tells the story of a plump teen, Tracy Turnblad, and her dream of dancing on an “American Bandstand”-style show filmed in Baltimore where she lives. After winning a role on the show and becoming a local celebrity, she takes a stand to integrate the racially segregated program.

“I chose this show for several reasons,” Wagner said. “It has a large cast size, so we were able to use as much of the community as possible. It is a pretty popular title, so I think there will be a lot of interest in the area in seeing the production. The music is great and the story we are telling onstage has a strong message — a message that is still very relevant today.” Wagner feels the audience will enjoy the show because there is a lot to like about the show.

“The music and choreography are lively and full of energy, the talent on stage is top notch, and the message we get from the show is one that can affect everyone, and it is something that we can all take with us as we travel on through life,” he said.

Wagner's biggest challenge was working with the schedules of the large cast of 45 teens and adults from all over the area to bring them together to rehearse.

“With it being summer, there are a lot of vacations and other commitments that we had to work around. It's hard sometimes when you are working on a scene or a song and several people are missing to keep track of where those people need to be on stage since everyone is moving around a lot,” he said.

“The cast has been wonderful, though,” he added. “If they are not able to attend a rehearsal, they will get together with either me, the stage manager, or the dance captain to learn what they missed so that we can keep moving forward.

“They are very talented individuals who are extremely dedicated and hard-working. They all are willing to go the extra mile to make sure this production is the best it can be. I couldn't ask for a better cast.”

Several of those cast members are also from Connellsville.

Jeremy Lowery, 18, of Connellsville plays Sketch, one of the dancers on the “Corny Collins Show.”

Wagner has directed Lowery the past two years in “The Nutcracker.”

“John always creates a fun and positive atmosphere when working with him. What I also like about John is his stunning choreography is very innovative and eye-catching,” Lowery said.

Marina Stefano, 18, of Bullskin Township, who portrays Dynamite in the show, has also worked with Wagner as a director twice before.

“I loved John's choreography and how he taught us in the ‘Nutcracker.' Having him as a director, he pours his passion in not only the dancing but the blocking.”

Stefano said she thinks the audience is going to love the constant humor and the nonstop high energy dances Wagner has created.

“It's all in all a fun show to be in and watch,” Stefano said.

Jordan Hosfelt, 17, of Connellsville, who plays Fender, said this is his first time working with Wagner as a director, but has appeared in “Legally Blonde” at the GPAC which Wagner choreographed.

“My favorite thing about working with John is the level of professionalism that he brings to the production from his past theatrical experiences,” Hosfelt said.

Hosfelt thinks the audience will love the story “Hairspray” conveys.

“They'll get to watch the main characters break free of the inhibitions placed on them by the government, society and themselves. It's truly inspiring,” he said.

Other Connellsville cast members include: Rachael Szabo, Chantla Colon, Whitney Weimer and lighting designer Jeremy Rolla, who is originally from Connellsville.

The show opens 8 p.m. Friday; 8 p.m. Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 each and can be purchased by calling 724-439-1360.

Linda Harkcom is a contributing writer.

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