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H.O.T. announces final show

H.O.T.
Jun. 14, 2013 @ 11:39 PM

HUNTINGTON — There hasn't been this much "Hairspray" in the Ritter Park Amphitheater since 1989.

Huntington Outdoor Theatre has announced that its 20th and final show will be the rock 'n' roll, dance-fevered musical, "Hairspray," that will light up the park at 8:30 p.m. July 5-7, 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 will be $15/ $13 seniors (65+) and kids (5-12), kids 5 and under get in free. Groups of 20 tickets or more are $12 per ticket.

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

H.O.T. founder and director Helen Freeman said they're excited to announce the veteran cast which 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"), TV personality Kennie Bass and Shayne Gue, who founded Curtains Up Players at Jeslyn Performing Arts Center, and Levi Kelley, playing the cross-dressing role of Edna (made famous by John Travolta in the movie).

Freeman said they were trying to reel back in Disney's blockbuster, "Beauty and the Beast," but H.O.T. couldn't afford the $21,000 royalties.

When they started looking around, "Hairspray," which has been worked up by everyone from the Paramount Players in 2011 to Ironton High School this spring, was a perfect cross-generational show.

"'Hairspray' is the perfect show probably even more so than 'Beauty' because it is a family show, it's fun, it has a social message and it teaches history," Freeman said.

For those who don't know the musical it is based off the quirky and poignant John Water's movie that starred an unknown Rikki Lake (as Tracy), Deborah Harry, Divine, Jerry Stiller, Ric Ocasek (of The Cars), and the late Sonny Bono.

"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.

Can a plus-size trendsetter in dance and fashion vanquish the program's reigning princess, win the heart of heartthrob Link Larkin, and integrate a television show without denting her 'do?

The cast, which includes folks from as far away as South Shore and Morehead, Ky., and Charleston, began rehearsals on May 20 and will go straight through with four to five practices a week until the July 5 opening.

Founded by Patti Shaver and Helen and Steve Freeman, H.O.T. will close down at the end of the July run with the hopes that someone else can start their own summer theater company to do shows at the amphitheater.

"Because of time and health and because we are getting older," Freeman said as to why they are having their last season. "I am 52, and Steve will be 56 in January. Patti had to retire three years ago because she really needed to think about her health and she is just now getting back on her feet. It really is hard on your body. People don't realize the amount of hours we do. I will work from 7 or 8 in the morning until 1 a.m. the next day and get back up and do it again until I get everything done."

Freeman said other factors contributed to their decision as they've taken a pounding in the past few years by the weather, and with it becoming increasingly difficult to find shows that can reach across generations to pull in enough (600 to 700 a night) to be able to break even on shows.

Last year's brutal record heat topped with the unprecedented summer storm, the Derecho that killed the power and much of the set, helped in their decision to close it down.

"We used to hardly ever have rain in July, we had seven rainouts in 15 seasons, and sometimes we did two shows in a year but the climate has started to change about four years ago," Freeman said. "Last year, I don't know how we made it through. When that Friday storm hit it just wiped out everything and people didn't have electricity for weeks."

Freeman said they had to shell out $2,500 for a portable generator, to keep the show running. An hour later, the power came back on.

Top that with rain on the first three weekends last year, and the award-winning Huntington High School teacher, was about to lose it.

"We went into that last weekend $50,000 in the hole, and I have never been that bad," Freeman said of the stress of the 2012 H.O.T. season. "We block-busted that weekend, but on that Sunday it rained and I cried, but we also made it to even. We are $9,000 in the hole which we can make up. People think you make all this money but if you break even in theater you are doing something. Last year we should have lost more with the weather, it was a freakish thing. The heat and the rain were unbearable."

Freeman, though, is optimistic they can break even this year, and is overwhelmed by the H.O.T. alumni and former students such as Jacob Jarvis, who are giving up a chunk of their summer to be a part of the H.O.T. family.

Freeman said that feeling of knowing they have made an impact on so many kids has made it worthwhile.

"I know that when I stated this theater I felt like it was a mission field for me to help theater kids and kids in the arts to keep them busy," Freeman said. "We have had a lot of people go on to New York and work professionally from First Stage and H.O.T. and because of us. I think Fifth Avenue and H.O.T. and First Stage, we've all been around the longest, have really encouraged kids to want to purse their art and to fulfill their dreams and to have a back-up plan if they don't."

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