INDIANAPOLIS — “Hairspray” opens Friday at Footlite Musicals with three local actors joining the cast of the show that took the Tony for Best Musical in 2003.
The show weaves catchy, upbeat songs around a powerful social message about a turbulent time in the nation’s racial history. It’s the ’60s, and Tracy Turnblad (Tara Roberds) is thrilled to be cast as the newest dancer on “The Corny Collins Show,” but her support for integrating black dancers into the lineup puts her at the center of a contentious debate about equal rights.
The message is serious, but the laughs are many, including those inspired by the character everyone loves to hate, Corny Collins Show producer Velma Von Tussel, portrayed by Greenfield resident Elizabeth Orr.
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For Orr, taking on the role of the former beauty queen who has an entire musical number dedicated to reliving her glory days as “Miss Baltimore Crabs” was a welcome challenge.
“Velma Von Tussel is a dream role for me,” Orr said.
New to Hancock County, Orr graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor of fine arts in musical theater and a master’s in education. She went on to teach high school theater in the Scottsdale area before relocating to Greenfield last year.
Orr recently appeared as one of the leading ladies in Footlite’s “White Christmas” and then decided to audition for “Hairspray,” the venue’s next production.
She went into auditions with her sights set on Velma.
The character is unlikeable, a narcissist and blatant racist, but Orr is undeterred.
“It’s liberating,” she said.
She gets a lot of support from her fellow cast members, but she said she’ll be most interested in the audience reaction when performances start Friday.
Scott Fleshood, another Hancock county resident is, at 28, one of the oldest of the Corny Collins teen dancers, but his young looks earned him the part.
Fleshood, a 2004 Mt. Vernon graduate, was a well-known face on the high school stage and continued into community theater after graduating from Ball State.
In “Hairspray,” he plays the part of IQ and is, as the song goes, one of the “Nicest Kids in Town.” Fleshood added that he also plays a bartender, a part the teens probably wouldn’t be allowed to play.
Current Mt. Vernon high school student Samantha Russell was drawn to “Hairspray” as an opportunity to audition for theater outside of her community.
In “Hairspray,” she plays the role of Becky, another of the Corny Collins kids.
Russell’s sights are set on a career in theater, and she plans to follow in Orr’s footsteps in pursuing at Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in musical theater.
Meanwhile, she is enjoying her experience on the Footlite stage.
“It’s a great cast and a high-energy show with great music,” she said. “It’s also very funny with a great message.”
“Hairspray” opens Friday, then runs Thursdays through Sundays through March 29. Visit the website at footlite.org for ticket information and reservations.
Next week’s Just 4 Fun page will include a review and some of the history lessons found in “Hairspray”.