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Weather can't stop the beat of H.O.T.'s finale, 'Hairspray'

Jul. 11, 2013 @ 09:53 AM

HUNTINGTON -- If there two things that don't go together it's raindrops and hairspray.

And so it's with fingers crossed and bribes made to area meteorologists for something like the sun as Huntington Outdoor Theatre heads into its second weekend of the rollicking dance-fevered musical, "Hairspray" at the Ritter Park Amphitheater.

"Hairspray" will light up the park at 8:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday, July 12-14, July 19-21, July 26-28.

Gates open at 6:30 p.m. for picnicking and the children's pre-show, "Disney Extravaganza!" and community pre-show begin at 7 p.m. Bring lawn chairs or blankets, cooler, etc.

Admission is $15, $13 for both seniors (65+) and kids (5-12) while kids ages 5 and under get in for free. Groups of 20 tickets or more are $12 per ticket.

Advance tickets can be bought at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena box office and tickets can be bought at the gate.

H.O.T. founder and director Helen Freeman, who announced earlier this year that this is the last season for H.O.T., which is in its 20th year, said last weekend's soggy opening weekend was only bested in misery by last year's opening weekend marred by blazing record heat then followed by the derecho wind blasts that did some Oz-like set destruction.

"It was the worst weekend of our lives but not as bad as last year," Freeman said of last weekend when incessant rain canceled Saturday and had bookend shows Friday and Sunday with thin crowds.

But all of those brooding skies weren't enough to quell patrons' love of H.O.T.'s production of the musical, which is based off the now classic John Waters' movie.

"It is a really, really hard show and you couldn't do it if you didn't have this great cast," Freeman said. "It's beautiful and it has turned out really energetic, and the crowd really seems to love it. Sometimes they don't do standing ovations but were right up on it the first night and the second night on Sunday."

For folks who don't know the story, "Hairspray" is set in Waters' hometown of Baltimore (which Waters dubbed "the hairdo capitol of the world"). It's 1962, at the height of the teen celebrity craze, and the wacky musical romp traces one girl's quest for the spotlight -- 16-year-old Tracy Turnblad, a big girl who's got big hair, a big heart and even bigger dreams.

Not unlike the 'American Idol' and everybody's got talent kind of fever of today, the musical tracks everyone -- and their moms -- desperately seeking teen pop dreams.

Tracy wins a spot on the local TV dance program, "The Corny Collins Show" and, overnight, is transformed from outsider to irrepressible teen celebrity.

A huge fan of both movies (the original Waters' comedy that starred a then unknown Rikki Lake, Deborah Harry, Divine, Jerry Stiller, Ric Ocasek (of The Cars), and the late Sonny Bono), and the updated movie musical starring John Travolta in the cross-dressing role of Edna Turnblad, Levi Kelley, who plays Edna, said the musical hits home with contemporary audiences on so many levels.

"The music is phenomenal and infectious and the dance, for people who love dance, this is the show because there's so many styles of dance," Kelley said. "and this story is just hysterical but it's also powerful. It's that story that the underdog can win but this is even more contemporary because she's a bigger girl and we certainly have our problems with obesity, and she's also fighting for justice for herself and for the African-Americans in the community of Baltimore and I think that is of major relevance today."

The veteran cast also includes two girls, Jessica Cooper as Tracy and Brynna Horswell, as Amber, who starred in the Charleston Light Opera Guild production of the show.

"Hairspray," also features Evan Sullivan, of Lexington, Ky., as Link, in addition to a slew of H.O.T. stalwarts such as Ryan Hardiman (who starred in many H.O.T productions including its most successful, "Beauty and the Beast") and TV personality and theater veteran, Kennie Bass.

"I don't think there's a better person to play Tracy. I saw that production in Charleston and loved it," Kelley said. "It was one of my favorite community theater productions, and she has grown so much as a performer since then. I've found playing a role twice you have a better understanding of the role and that is definitely true of Jessica, she has made Tracy more human rather than just a caricature not that you can take it too seriously, it is 'Hairspray' but there is that side to her."

Kelley said it's been inspirational to play Edna, a character who goes through so much transformation in the show.

"She's a fun character and there's certain things you have to do, but I've tried to make her more human by focusing on the mothering aspect," Kelley said. "My Edna is very much interested in protecting Tracy and making sure that everything is fine with her daughter and she is very much in love with her husband and her family is what is important to her but she has shut down her dreams to take care of her family. By the end she realizes you can have both your dreams and your family. I love that the character gets to go through that transformation in the show. It's fun to explore how Edna's psyche changes. Not only with her physical appearance but emotionally as well. Edna is just a great character to really delve into."

One serious side that the H.O.T. family is trying not to show is emotion on yet is this being the 20th and final season for the popular outdoor theater company started by Helen and Steve Freeman with Patti Shaver.

"I think right now people are trying to not think about it," Kelley said. "When we had our first rehearsals there were a lot of feelings about it being the last H.O.T. show but I think during the rehearsals and now doing the show, we're keeping our minds on the performances and making it the best we can. It was a little sentimental on opening night but really, for the best, everyone has tried to suppress those feelings."

That said, on Saturday, July 27 a bunch of H.O.T. alums will be performing in the adult pre-show, Jessica Maier, Kris Corbett, Mary Olson, C.E. Wilson and others singing songs from H.O.T. shows from year's past.

And Facebook is ripe with love for H.O.T, including a thread dedicated to "Helenisms" or off-the-cuff sayings by Freeman.

"It's already been bitter sweet like Ryan (Hardiman) said to me Sunday night, 'Are you sure you're not going to miss this and aren't you having second thoughts?" Freeman said. "And a lot of people seem saddened by it but it's a good time to end after 20 years. It's touched a lot of lives but all good things come to an end, think of the TV shows that don't last more than seven years, of course, they can get replayed. This one we can't replay."

If You Go

WHAT: Huntington Outdoor Theatre's 20th and final show is the rock 'n' roll, dance-fevered musical, "Hairspray"

WHERE: Ritter Park Amphitheater

WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday, July 12-14, July 19-21, July 26-27

PICNIC AND PRE-SHOW: Gates open at 6:30 p.m. for picnicking and the children's pre-show, "Disney Extravaganza!" and community pre-show begin at 7 p.m. Bring lawn chairs or blankets, cooler, etc.

HOW MUCH: Admission $15/ $13 for seniors (65+) and kids (5-12). Kids 5 and under admitted free. Groups of 20 tickets or more are $12 per ticket.

WHAT TO BRING: Bring lawn chairs or blankets, cooler, bug-spray, jackets. There are also full concessions including show merchandise and food.

GET TIX: Advance tickets can be bought at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena box office and at the door

FOR MORE INFO: Call 304-696-5981 and www.hotwv.org.

HOMECOMING SHOW: Saturday, July 27 with former H.O.T. members performing in the adult pre-show, Jessica Maier, Kris Corbett, Mary Olson, C.E. Wilson and others singing songs from H.O.T. all the way back to the third year.

ABOUT THE SHOW: Based on the classic John Waters' movie and musical, "Hairspray" is set in Waters' hometown of Baltimore (which Waters dubbed "the hairdo capital of the world"). It's 1962, at the height of the teen celebrity craze, and the wacky musical romp traces one girl's quest for the spotlight -- 16-year-old Tracy Turnblad, a big girl who's got big hair, a big heart and even bigger dreams. She becomes a teen celebrity when she wins a spot on the local TV dance program, "The Corny Collins Show."

 

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