Designing Hairspray, by Resident Scenic Designer Stefanie Christensen

The setting of 1962 Baltimore opens the design of Hairspray to some really great and fun color combinations and graphic patterns.  These great options guided many of the design choices made by our team of Resident Designers, Julian Wiles and Stefanie Christensen.  In fact when we began working on this show we enlisted the help of our summer TheatreWings High School Apprentice Camp.  During camp, each student used the research of 1960s graphic patterns to create stencils.  They arranged these stencils on brightly colored background panels in different configurations and painted them in contrasting colors.  By the end of camp, we grouped the panels in like colors and attached hinges to create these great bright folding screens that will also be able to be used by the acting classes in our theatre school to create settings, entrances and locations.  And we had some great designs and color combinations to use in the set for Hairspray.

Once we saw the great color combinations, we tagged the ones we knew we wanted to use in the show.  You can see the purple, yellow and orange combinations in the Har-de-Har Hut, Maybelle’s shows up in orange and reds with a hint of turquoise.  Penny’s bedroom has floating circles in shades of green and blue and Tracy’s bedroom is bright pink and green.  And for the school scenes, we created a monochromatic drop in shades of gray overlapping rectangles that we affectionally call the “Retro Drop”. So come check out all the great colors, shapes and patterns onstage for one more weekend, Sept 16th – 19th at Dock Street Theatre.

Panels painted by TheatreWings Apprentices during a summer camp.


Retro Drop is featured in the background.


From left to right: Former Charleston Stage Resident Actors Drew Archer as Wilbur and Brian Bogstad as Edna at the Har-de-Har Hut.


Choreographing Hairspray, by Former Charleston Stage Resident Actor Lindsey Lamb Archer

It has been so much fun getting to work on Hairspray as choreographer.  I have always loved this show as well as the original John Waters 1988 non-musical movie. This movie was a part of my childhood in a big way and I am definitely one of those goobers who can quote most of it. So getting to create dances for a show that holds so much meaning to me was kind of cool.

Before I started working on choreography I did a lot of research on popular dances of the 60’s.  I also talked to many people who used to “shake a tail feather” during that time.  What is great about 60’s dances is that they were very specific about certain steps.  So I was able to piece together a lot of specific dances to create choreography for different numbers in the show.  Dances you will see in our production include the Swim, Mashed Potato, Pony, Madison, Hitchhiker, Monkey and many more!

This show was a HUGE undertaking because it has a ton of dancing and music.  This has probably been one of the biggest shows I’ve worked on in a while in terms of choreography.  At times I definitely felt overwhelmed especially since I am performing in the show as well.  But I was blessed with a wonderful Artistic team and an extremely talented cast of musical theatre performers.  They have been great to work with and if you see the show you can see how talented they are.


The Cast of Hairspray dancing the Pony.


The cast of Hairspray dancing the Mashed Potato.

Hairspray Guest Artist Crystin Gillmore as Motormouth Maybelle

It has been such a pleasure to return to Charleston Stage at the Dock Street Theatre and perform in Hairspray.  In 2005, I had the pleasure of being a Resident Actor while Charleston Stage was still calling the Dock Street home. The renovations are breathtaking to say the least. The theatre has kept its character while adding the accessibility and amenities of a contemporary theatre. It’s like a fabulous trip down memory lane when I think about the so-called haunted third floor and stage manager booth!  I must say, I do miss the rickety stairs from the second floor to the stage but the new dressing rooms and elevators are definitely a PLUS.  The newly renovated Dock Street is a sweet treat while the opportunity to appear in Hairspray is the icing on the cake.

The role of Motormouth Maybelle has been so much fun creating.  Hairspray has such a great message to share with the audience and I have loved having a character who is an advocate for acceptance and equality.  As an actor sometimes, work is work and you just want an opportunity to show the world your talent but, in the case of Hairspray, I have the privilege to perform in a show that I believe in.  Motormouth Maybelle is a fun-loving, high energy, realistic mother of two. She knows the hardships of a black family in the sixties and the internal struggle of a woman in a society that frowns upon people over weight.  Her message is love and acceptance.  What I appreciate most about my character is that she teaches those around her with honesty, humor, and love.  I feel it’s easier to share a part of me as Motormouth Maybelle, being that I find these characteristics in myself.  Every night I find a new discovery in my character. I feel acting is a never-ending journey of discovery. I read and re-read my script constantly in search of a different angle or point of view.  Hairspray has given me such a remarkable opportunity to give an audience a chance to laugh, sing, and cry with an over the top, fun-loving character as Motormouth Maybelle.  Thank you Charleston Stage.  What an honor!

Center: Former Charleston Stage Resident Actor Crystin Gillmore as Motormouth Maybelle and Charleston Stage Resident Actor Mary-E Godfrey as Tracy Turnblad.


Center: Former Charleston Stage Resident Actor Crystin Gillmore as Motormouth Maybelle.


Becoming Corny Collins, by Charleston Stage Resident Actor Mikey Nagy

Playing Corny Collins has been an exciting and incredible journey that I am so grateful for. When I originally found out I was playing this role I was kind of shocked. I’m short and usually play comedic roles, but I was very excited to take on this new character type and had a blast exploring the creation of my own Corny Collins!

I really feel that Corny is a genuinely nice guy who loves the kids but becomes bothered by certain issues especially the issue of desegregation. However, I feel that Corny can also be a goof and quite a sarcastic man. He loves the audience’s attention, but he also loves getting away with what he wants to get away with. He tends to be a flirtatious guy in some scenes mainly because he thinks everybody loves him, but in other scenes his true honest side comes out that is usually played “off air”. He sticks up for segregation because he sees what is going on and it honestly bothers him. Corny sees that The Corny Collins Show is segregated and he clearly has a problem with that so he agrees with Tracy throughout the show and, by the end, helps her out with the plan to bring everyone together for the spectacular event that is nationwide. By being a nationwide event, Corny hopes to bring a new light to the rest of America and show that everyone else can have a change in their heart and hope for a new beginning!

Front: Charleston Stage Resident Actors Mikey Nagy as Corny Collins and Mary-E Godfrey as Tracy Turnblad.


Center: Charleston Stage Resident Actor Mikey Nagy as Corny Collins.


Becoming Link Larkin, by Actor Nicholas Piccola

For my fifth grade talent show I received the “Future Heart Throb of America” award for my rendition of an N*Sync classic.  Needless to say, I did not have to search hard for my inner heart throb when becoming Link Larkin, because my elementary school principal had already told me I was going to be one.  In my short career as an actor I have never played a romantic lead, so when I was given the role of Link I was excited for the challenges ahead of me.  When preparing for this role in Hairspray, I wanted to take a thoughtful approach.  Link is focused on one thing, himself, until the groundbreaking extremist Tracy Turnblad changes his perspective.  Link has one of the biggest character changes from the beginning of the show to the end, going from a self-involved Elvis wannabe to a liberal protester.  I wanted to make this character arc apparent to the audience.  Making Link my own was an added challenge, because most of the general public uses Mathew Morrison (original Link on Broadway) and Zac Efron (Link in 2007 movie version) as reference points, but I did not want to imitate either of their performances. With wonderful direction, an electric score, and talented cast, Hairspray will surely rock the Dock!


Front left to right: Charleston Stage Resident Actor Mary-E Godfrey as Tracy Turnblad and Nicholas Piccola as Link Larkin.


Nicholas Piccola as Link Larkin and Charleston Stage Resident Actor Mary-E Godfrey as Tracy Turnblad.


The Message Behind Hairspray, by Charleston Stage Resident Actor Lee Hollis Bussie

There is no doubt that Hairspray is entertaining, fun, and memorable but I believe that it is very relateable to any who come see the Tony Award winning hit. Tracy Turnblad is the outsider, the one that is often laughed at, and the one that many other characters in the show view as not capable (of many things). It is hard for anyone to deny that they have been in at least one if not all of the situations at some point in their lives. Being “different” is difficult because there always seems to be a struggle. A struggle with other people yes, but most of all a struggle with yourself. In Hairspray we see Tracy having all of these struggles and fighting her way through them so that by the end she learns that it is wonderful to be different, especially if being different stands for what is right. If you do not love Tracy by the end of the show, I promise you will love her at the end. Her struggle has been all of our struggles at one point or another and we can’t help but to cheer her on throughout her journey.

Audiences will also be able to take other great things from the story. The younger generation (and even some of the older) will get a realistic view on how segregation was years back and how far we have come since those days. Audiences will also be reminded that family is truly a virtue and standing by loved ones and trusting them can help you do anything that you put your mind to. But most importantly audiences will be taught to believe in themselves and to always fight for what you want, no matter how big the opposing forces may be. Water’s does a great job of giving the audiences these gifts and we are more than happy to give them out for him with each performance.


The cast of Hairspray sing "Big, Blonde, and Beautiful".


The cast of Hairspray sing "Good Morning Baltimore".


Becoming Seaweed, by Charleston Stage Resident Actor Ira Lindberg Harris

Seaweed J. Stubbs actually reminds me of myself in high school. Energetic, fun, crazy, wild, loving, suave, popular, well diverse and the “Ladies Man”. Yes, that was a little over five years ago, so I tried to channel back to the past as much as I could. So trying to find my character wasn’t as hard as trying to find my character’s singing voice.

Seaweed’s character is color blind in every way and doesn’t understand why some people can’t move on from racial matters. Luckily growing up in my day in time, I didn’t have to go through what all Seaweed went through. But still to this day racial issues occur be it ethnicity, religion, sexuality and even weight. And all of us have experienced and or have seen one of these in our time. Playing this role has been one of the biggest journeys in my life, and I love it!

Front Center: Charleston Stage Resident Actor Ira Lindberg Harris as Seaweed.
Front Center: Charleston Stage Resident Actor Ira Lindberg Harris as Seaweed.


Becoming Penny Lou Pingleton, by Charleston Stage Resident Actor Stephanie S. Faatz

Playing the role of Penny has been both a challenge and a lot of fun!  I think the key to success in playing Penny lies in remembering that, while she says some ridiculous things, she genuinely means every word.  What others might think is silly or common sense, she thinks is a brilliant idea! 

She is that awkward, diamond in the rough that we all knew in high school.  At the start of our story, she has one friend and a strict mother and not much else going for her.  However, by the end of the show, she undergoes a pretty drastic transformation.  She grows from the “Ugly Duckling” into a swan.  I think her friendships with Tracy and Seaweed allow her to see a world outside of what her mother has created for her and she is finally free to blossom.  Penny is there to remind us all to never judge a book by it’s cover!


Cathy Ardrey as Mrs. Pingleton and Charleston Stage Resident Actor Stephanie S. Faatz as Penny Lou Pingleton.


Front left to right: Charleston Stage Resident Actors Ira Lindberg Harris as Seaweed J. Stubbs and Stephanie S. Faatz as Penny Lou Pingleton.


Becoming Tracy Turnblad, by Charleston Stage Resident Actor Mary-E Godfrey

Tracy is iconic because, true to his form, John Waters has created an atypical leading character. Tracy is larger than life, but not just because of her body type. She is wholeheartedly determined to conquer her dreams and refuses to be sidetracked by outside influences. The biggest challenge for me in this role is finding that strength not to be deterred by the, as Motormouth Maybelle would say, “never-ending parade of stupid” that surrounds Tracy; and finding joy, light, and genuine fascination with everything and everyone in Baltimore.

Preparation for the show for me included going back to the original 1988 John Water’s film. I’ve been in love with the music and story of Hairspray since I first heard it my sophomore year of high school. I have belted along with Marissa Jaret Winokur in my car more times than I can count in the past seven years. But since being cast in the role I have fought with my script and marked up my score beyond recognition trying to find the balance between craft and communication needed to perform this role.

I can relate to Tracy because I have always been one of the biggest girls in my class at school, and it has always been difficult for me to overcome my body to be seen by boys, the popular kids, and casting directors in theatre. However, with maybe a bit more cynical approach than Tracy would have, I have finally found what is beautiful in the world around me and use it to inspire my actions, much like Tracy does.


Front left: Charleston Stage Resident Actor Mary-E Godfrey as Tracy Turnblad.


Charleston Stage Resident Actor Mary-E Godfrey as Tracy Turnblad.


From the Pit, by Musical Director Amanda Wansa

Opening the Dock with Hairspray is a very exciting experience for all of us on staff at Charleston Stage, as well as for audiences!  I have had the fortunate opportunity to add live musicians to this show, and there are some excellent musicians in this town to choose from.

Like the story, set, costumes, and dancing, the score to Hairspray is loud, entertaining, and very colorful.  I have hired a band of nine talented local musicians of all ages and musical backgrounds.  The pit will feature 2 keyboards, trumpet, trombone, drums/percussion, bass, guitar (electric!), and 2 reed players who will play 4 instruments each!  This means we will have 3 different saxophones, flutes, and clarinets.  My musicians are Jordan Alexander (piano), John Kennedy (bass), John Durham (guitar), Brian Widlowski (drums), William McSweeney (trombone), Dan Bellack (trumpet), Jack Pettit (Alto sax, tenor, clarinet, flute), Jason Bellack (tenor sax, alto sax, bari sax, flute), and myself on synthesizer.

I really have to tip my hat to these musicians.  They get TWO orchestra rehearsals (that’s a total of 8 hours) to rehearse together before we hit the pit in tech rehearsals with the cast.  We then get 4 technical rehearsal runs to get all the music right!  And we have!

The audience is in for a real treat with these brassy horns, groovin’ rhythm section, and cast of beltin’ and shakin’ singers!

The Cast of Hairspray perform “You Can’t Stop the Beat”