As the curtain rises tonight on Grady High School’s ambitious production of “Hairspray,” the high school students bringing the 1960s story of Baltimore teen Tracy Turnblad to life have a major cheerleader rooting them on. In the lobby hanging on the wall is an autographed “Hairspray” poster sent from Marissa Jaret Winokur who won the Tony in 2003 for the role. On it Winokur writes: “To the Grady High cast: Break a leg, Big Love, Bigger Hair, Marissa Jaret Winokur AKA The Real Tracy Turnblad.”
The actress is an old friend of Grady High teacher Lee Pope, one of eight faculty members who will act alongside their students in performances tonight through Saturday in the show. Pope is climbing into a housecoat and heels to play Edna Turnblad in the show.
“Every couple of years we do a big production like this,” “Hairspray” director and Grady drama and math teacher Jake Dreiling told Intel during our visit to the show’s final dress rehearsal Wednesday night. “I did a show that combined faculty and students at my former school and it really becomes a bonding opportunity. Like most theater productions, a family is formed. Since Grady is such a diverse school, the show’s message of tolerance and acceptance really hits home here.”
Grady’s “colorblind” casting, meanwhile, offers unique opportunities for the student actors to play roles not normally available to them. Senior Glory Nix told us she’s having fun playing the musical’s resident mean girl Amber Von Tussle. “I’m a little obsessed with this show,” Nix conceded with a laugh. “I saw the movie four times and I’ve also seen another high school production. I love playing Amber but I’m hopefully not as crazy! I also love that this show represents being accepted for who you are.”
Promise Hartung, who plays the lead role of Tracy, says the show’s civil rights era messages on race aren’t lost on her since her family is racially mixed. “This isn’t just pages in a history book for me,” she explains. “We live it every day.”
Still, Hartung says some of the early 1960s pop culture references sent Grady teenagers in 2011 off to scour Google.
“There’s a line in one of the songs about making out to Perry Como,” Hartung says. “I couldn’t figure it out until I listened to a Perry Como song. Then I knew instantly what it was talking about.”
Pope says he and the adult cast members also had to explain the Debbie Reynolds/Eddie Fisher/Elizabeth Taylor Hollywood love triangle to the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie generation.
Cracks Pope: “We just told them, it’s just like Brangelina only Debbie Reynolds is Jennifer Aniston!”
Grady High’s production of “Hairspray” runs tonight through Saturday night at 7 p.m. You can purchase tickets at the door or online by going to a link on Grady’s website.