Think high school and hair. Do teens and plastic spray bottles come to mind? Check out Hairspray, a musical production at Clearwater High School this weekend, and chances are a new vision will emerge.
"It's the first time we've taken on a production like this," said Joy Roche, director of the CHS Theater Arts Department, "the first time we've had specific roles to cast white and black students. This has been quite a journey and a beautiful thing to watch students bond. This production has brought the group closer together."
Students have done the Tony Award-winning Broadway show proud. The production is at once funny and serious. It all works, from the sophisticated props and 1960s-era costumes, to spirited orchestra music and choreography, to spot-on lighting and sound production.
And then there are the voices. Some sweet and melodic, some powerful and rich, all talented players performing songs that reach out to the audience, regardless of age. The polished production by high school students may surprise some.
On Tuesday, an audience of middle school students saw the production, laughing and cheering for the cast. This morning, the CHS student body will fill the auditorium seats to watch their classmates on stage, listen to '60s rock 'n' roll, and absorb a history lesson on segregation.
"I've lived my entire life being pro-integration," said Meghann Timberlake, 17, a junior, who plays Amber Von Tussle. "It's a very fragile time in history. And it's hard to play a part where the character thinks, 'I really don't like you because of the color of your skin.' "
In the musical, Velma Von Tussle, Amber's mother, is played by Carly Deegan, 18, who is quick to say that the show is about much more than singing and dancing. "It's not just about big hair and a fat girl," Carly said, "it's about people coming together."
Ask the cast what it has been like to produce a musical that has everyone singing, dancing and yet acting out such a serious message, and each one says it has been difficult, but rewarding.
"It's been funky," said Waltesha Evans, 18, a senior making her stage debut as Motormouth Maybelle. "I get a little nervous, but it goes away after the show starts."
Auditions began in January and rehearsals in February.
"It was fun to learn the music," said senior Emma Foroutan, 17, who plays the female lead with the positive attitude and big hair, Tracy Turnblad. "It's been a new challenge wearing a really big wig and a fat suit, which is very hot. It's been a fun show with the '60s music, bright colors and the show has a really good message."
Josh Whedon, 17, a junior who plays IQ, said, "For me, the best part is the music. And even though the play is funny, the underlying message is very important. This girl (Tracy Turnblad) is carefree and knows what's right."
"I play the host, the Bob Barker of the show," says Alex Hehr, 18, a senior, who plays Corny Collins. "The play revolves around The Corny Collins Show, which Tracy Turnblad wants to get on, but she's a little overweight. Basically, the whole show is about trying to integrate Corny Collins' show with her friends."
One of the funniest characters, Edna Turnblad, Tracy's mom, is played by AJ Ramnath, a senior, who said this was a dream role for him.
Many in the cast will leave for college next year and plan to major in theater or music. Student director Briland Farnell, 18, a senior, is one of them.
"It's been a wonderful experience," Briland said. "It definitely had its stressful moments, moments where I didn't know what to do, but fun moments too. The show has created a lot of good memories and confirmed for me that this is what I want to do."
Briland hopes to one day return to Clearwater High and take Roche's position when she retires.
But this weekend, the cast of Hairspray is ready to step onstage and perform to a full house each evening. If attendance has any connection to the quality of the music, laughs created onstage, and importance of a performance's message, Hairspray will fill every seat in the house.