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CVHS students to stage production of ‘Hairspray’

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — For four days this month, Chippewa Valley High School students will transform the school auditorium into the vibrant world of 1962 Baltimore.

“This show really stimulates all the senses with its bright colors, terrific music, riveting story and great acting,” said James Pecar, the school’s new choral director.

He said the audience will feel like they’re “stepping back into the ’60s from the moment they walk in the door.”

Under the direction of actor, director and radio personality Marty Bufalini, students will bring the acclaimed musical “Hairspray” to the stage of the Henrichsen Auditorium at CVHS, located at 18300 19 Mile Road in Clinton Township. Evening performances will take place at 7 p.m. Nov 21-23. A matinee show will also be held at 1 p.m. Nov. 23, and a free performance for local senior citizens will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 20. All tickets are $10 each.

Based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name, “Hairspray” is a musical featuring 1960s-style dance music and downtown rhythm-and-blues, and offering social commentary on racial injustice in American society during the civil rights era. The original Broadway production opened in August 2002 and, the following year, won eight Tony Awards out of 13 nominations. It was later adapted as a musical film in 2007.

The story of “Hairspray” focuses on “pleasantly plump” teenager Tracy Turnblad, whose dream is to dance on “The Corny Collins Show,” a local TV dance program. When Tracy wins a role on the popular show, she becomes a celebrity overnight. She then launches a campaign to racially integrate the show.

At CVHS, the lead role will be played by senior Maddie Wozniak. The rest of the cast — which includes about 70 students altogether, not including those offstage in the crew and orchestra — features senior Tyler Knepp as Edna Turnblad, senior Mitchell Conte as Wilbur Turnblad, senior Rachel Kruk as Penny Pingleton, senior Isaiah Brown as Seaweed J. Stubbs, senior Marissa Scott as Motormouth Maybelle and sophomore Bill Bailey as Link Larkin.

According to parent and assistant producer Cheryl Calandrino, “This is a very fun and colorful show, but these songs are also a lot more difficult to sing than most people realize. At this point, our actors and orchestra have not even rehearsed together yet, so I’m really excited to see the show from beginning to end.”

Pecar was hired as CVHS’ choral director just before the start of the 2013-14 school year and was immediately thrown into the role of assembling a full-scale musical production. For support, he brought in his colleague Bufalini — a veteran actor who has appeared in films such as Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” and worked as a traffic reporter on WWJ 950 AM — to direct the show.

“I was presented with the offer to produce ‘Hairspray,’ and I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to showcase the amazing talents of our students,” Pecar said. “Marty is a wonderful actor, and he’s really great working with kids, too. He allows them to be the individual artists that they are by helping them find their true talent.”

CVHS students have made an enormous commitment to getting this show off the ground. They rehearse nearly every day after school from 2:30-6:30 p.m., and often for long hours on the weekend, as well. Pecar thanked his students for being so flexible with their schedules.

“This show brings an incredible work ethic to the table,” he said. “It’s a very, very involved production that teaches kids a lot about discipline, responsibility and hard work. But it’s been worth all the extra hours over these last several weeks because it has allowed for so much terrific growth with these kids, both as solo performers and as members of a big ensemble cast.”

Calandrino echoed that sentiment.

“We’ve definitely been crunched for time on this show,” she said, “but the kids have absolutely stepped up to the challenge. Even with rehearsals almost every single day, they haven’t complained and really seem to be enjoying themselves.”

The Nov. 20 show for senior citizens is intended as a final dress rehearsal before the official opening night of “Hairspray” the following day. But as Pecar pointed out, the CVHS cast will not be taking this first performance lightly.

“Everything is really starting to come together now,” he said. “Within the next week or so, I know that these kids will all be feeling incredibly eager to perform for others. They’re going to be so hungry for an audience reaction that our free show will really be like their opening night.”

Advance tickets for the CVHS production of “Hairspray” can be purchased at door A of the school Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m. or via email at chippewavalleymusicals @gmail.com. Tickets can also be purchased at the ticket window one hour before each performance.