MANSFIELD -- The Renaissance Theater is opening its season with a heartwarming tale of big dreams, friendship and fighting for what's right.
Hairspray is a Tony-award winning musical beloved for it's larger-than-life musical numbers and unforgettable characters. The cast will take the main stage July 31 and Aug. 7 at 8 p.m. and Aug. 1 and 8 at 2:30 p.m.
"We wanted to present something after the reopening that would really entertain people as well as leave them with a warm heart," director Michael Thomas said.“We hope that the audience will embrace it as much as we have and just really have a good time."
Hairspray tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a plus-sized teen in 1960s Baltimore who’s biggest dream is to dance on the The Corny Collins Show.
Despite resistance from the show’s devious producer, Velma Von Tussle, Tracy eventually earns a spot on the show and soon becomes the program’s breakout star. But when Tracy discovers the show is segregated, she finds herself on the front lines of the battle for equality and acceptance.
“Tracy Turnblad is a big girl with big dreams,” said Izzi Robles, who plays the lead role. “No matter how many times that people kind of try to knock her down, her optimism keeps her going.”
After befriending Seaweed, a Black classmate and fellow dancer, Tracy becomes involved in efforts to integrate the show. Meanwhile, Velma works to foil their efforts and keep her spoiled daughter Amber in the spotlight.
Despite tackling big topics like racial inequality and body positivity, Hairspray is full of fun, energetic showstoppers. Miss Ohio 2020 Caroline Grace Williams, who also plays Amber Van Tussle, choreographed the show.
“It’s a very dance-heavy show,” Williams said. “Every single number is a full dance number. So we spent the first two weeks of rehearsal dedicated just to choreography.”
The show features both local and regional talent, including some out-of-state cast members.
Robles hails from Atlanta, Georgia and recently graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). She most recently performed at the Renaissance as Anita in the Mansfield Symphony concert version of West Side Story.
Fellow SCAD student Terrence Williams is making his debut performance at the Renaissance as Seaweed.
Robert Hardin-Leeth of Columbus plays Edna Turnblad, Tracy's insecure and slightly agoraphobic mother.
“Edna has kind of a parallel story happening during the play where she realizes that it's never too late to be who you are," Hardin-Leeth said. "It's never too late to live your dream. She does that by the end of the show and I love that part."
Mansfielder Beau Roberts will reprise the role of Wilbur Turnblad, which he played in the Renaissance's production of Hairspray in 2011.
Kera Gardner is also returning to her 2011 role as Little Inez. The 19-year-old said it’s even more fun the second time around.
“I love that she's a little spunky, but also she gets to participate in things like marching to try and stand up for what she believes in,” she said.
Gardner says she has a greater appreciation now for the character’s fight for civil rights.
“When I was 9 years old, in my head I was like, ‘I'm on stage. I'm singing,’” she said. “Now I’m like, ‘Oh, this is her trying to prove a point. This is her figuring out what she wants to do in life, stepping up to follow her dreams.”
Condrea Webber takes the stage as Motormouth Maybelle, a vocal powerhouse and mother of Seaweed and Little Inez.
“I’ve always loved this show. I’ve watched it a million times. My kids grew up watching it," Webber said.
Throughout the show, Maybelle leads by example and inspires her children to stand up for what's right -- an ideal she aspires to with her own kids.
"It's nice to try to get that message out to the youth," she said. "I love everything about her whole character and it's nice to embody it. So it comes really natural."
Other members of the cast include Akron’s Samantha Woodill as Penny, Ryan Shreve as Corny Collins, Leah Gesouras as Prudy Pingleton, Matti-Lynn Chrisman as Velma Von Tussle and Bob Gardner as Mr. Pinky.
Tickets for Hairspray are available at rentickets.org.