A Big-Hair Blast at the Tarkington

(Left to right) Hannah Boswell and Jill O'Malia listen to instructions from Hairspray Co-Director and Choreographer Jeff Van Paris.

The Carmel Repertory Theatre is having a big summer. They’re getting into a big-hair state of mind and celebrating their new home at the Carmel Performing Arts Center with their August 11 opening of Hairspray — the first musical to run in the Tarkington Theater, and the first community theater in the state of Indiana to tackle the high-energy, high-camp show.

“This has been a very exciting journey for this group,” said Carlo Nepomuceno, vice chairman of the Carmel Repertory Theatre and stage manager for the Hairspray production. The group used to perform in available school auditoriums and wherever they could find space.

Echoing that sentiment, Jonathan Horton, who plays Edna Turnblad in the show and is a self-professed “Hairspray-head,” said, “We’re thrilled about having a home at the Performing Arts Center and really happy to be able to perform on that stage.” Horton is also happy to see so many kids in the show. “It’s good to see such a diverse cast up here in Carmel,” he said.

About 170 people auditioned for the musical set in Baltimore, Maryland, circa 1962, about Tracy Turnblad, a heavyset, big-haired, big-hearted teenager who wins a spot on TV as a dancer on The Corny Collins Show and sets out to racially integrate the show and nab the heart of dancing stud Link Larkin. The final cast is 70 community actors strong.

“We really, truly are a community theater, too,” said Nepomuceno. “Because we tap into everyone, and everyone here — we’re all volunteers.”

(Left to right) Alfonso Carter, Joyce Licorish, Hannah Boswell and Dane Van Paris cut a rug at rehearsal.

Seventeen-year-old Hannah Boswell, who landed the lead role of Tracy Turnblad in the show and watched the second movie version of Hairspray a dozen times, said, “This has always been my dream role. It’s my first lead in a play.”

Jill O’Malia, who plays Velma Von Tussle, stuck-up stage mother to Corny Collins Show princess, Amber Von Tussle, is also relishing her character. “It’s always fun to play those snooty roles,” she said. “It’s really over the top.”

As much fun as the cast is having, preparation and rehearsal for a show of this magnitude also means a considerable amount of hard work. They won’t actually get into the Tarkington Theater until the Sunday before their Thursday night opening, which will be their normal modus operandi even after the theater officially opens, said Hairspray co-director Larry Creviston. “It’s the only way to ensure that the Tarkington gets full use. We just have to learn to do things a different way and to be a little more efficient,” he said.

Co-director and show choreographer Jeff Van Paris said, “They don’t tell you how hard this show is. It looks effortless, but to put it together is huge.”

Van Paris, who is also a fourth grade teacher and very particular, said, “My goal is to have this show so set when we get in there that it just flows. I want everyone to learn it just right.”

The cast’s boundless energy and sheer enthusiasm says those hips will be swinging in perfect harmony and that hair will be piled sky high come opening night!

Hairspray runs August 11-28 in the Tarkington Theater at the Carmel Performing Arts Center. Log on to www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org or call the Box Office at (317) 843-3800 for tickets.

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