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20111202_VMHS_Harlequin_01MISSION — After nearly three months of practicing, the Veterans Memorial High School (VMHS) Harlequin Drama Club is ready to bring “Hairspray” to the stage. Nearly 60 students including actors, stagehands, lighting crew, director, band and the drama teacher are looking forward to seeing many happy faces in the crowd.

Drama teacher James Hodgson said this has been the largest production the club has done under his tutelage. Of the 60 members, 30 of them are freshmen.

“This is a difficult play because of the size. We haven’t had all at once, 50 people, or 45 people on the stage,” said Hodgson. “It’s complicated to get them all up there and busy…and it’s a lot of singing. There’s not a lot of dialogue.”

Student Director Paulo Herevia said they have been working a lot on the play since they got the script.

“We had to grow up a lot more and learn dance, and come more often, and stay longer than last year,” said Brianna Salinas, who plays Amber Von Tussle and was in the “Grease” production last year. “This play is a lot harder and longer than last year’s.”

“Running back and forth, getting all the costumes, and music and choreography ready. It’s been quite a trip with all of this. It’s been a lot of fun,” Herevia said. “We’re going to wow the audience.”

Anna Olivarez, playing Penny Pingleton, said it has been a lot of fun because they are all friends and were able to hang out a lot more because of practices.

“It’s a really fun show,” said Olivarez.

“Hairspray,” a production about integration, popularity, racism and one girl’s dream to be on The Corny Collins Show, brings another aspect to the play, explained Hodgson.

Hodgson said he chose the play because it highlights diversity and shows that you don’t have to be one of the “pretty girls” to succeed.

20111202_VMHS_Harlequin_02“I believe ‘Hairspray’ gives an opportunity for the diversity of the school population to be seen on stage for all their talent and it doesn’t just choose the ‘pretty people’,” said Hodgson.

The themes of racism and coming together to do something together to make change, continued Hodgson, are also present in this play.

Some of the lead actors shared the same sentiments.

Herevia said it’s nice to see a play where a woman of bigger size gets the spotlight.

“It’s very, very rare for that woman to get the spotlight and to feel beautiful at least once, it’s really good,” said Herevia. “It’s something different.”

Hodgson said, “Color, size, height, and anything just doesn’t seem to matter.”

Salinas said she believes some of the bigger girls in the audience will feel like a boost of confidence from the performance.

Brian Mueller who plays Edna Turnblad, said the play has boosted his confidence and he hopes others will gain confidence to try out for leads.

“No matter what age you are, no matter how you look, or what you do, don’t be afraid to get the lead. Don’t be afraid to audition,” said Mueller.

Mueller and Cherish Varlack, playing Motormouth Maybelle, are both freshmen and were excited about getting lead parts in “Hairspray.”

“It’s super fun to go through this experience,” said Varlack. “The wigs, the clothes, learning everything, and to be better next year.”

Hodgson has been a great deal of support for the drama club and said he continues to see it grow, even if there is less funding. The arts are important, said Hodgson, and he doesn’t want the community to forget it’s there.

He also said that he gives the students a lot of control in the plays, he is mainly there for support and offers advice where he needs to.

Last year with “Grease” he said, “I give them ownership of the play.” And he continues to do so with each production the drama club produces.

“I become the resource instead of the one directing and doing everything,” said Hodgson.

The students do all the directing, managing, publicity, backgrounds, costumes and many other things with little guidance from him, he said. He is there to give promptings and hints on what to do.

20111202_VMHS_Harlequin_03The students feel that being part of drama and a production such as “Hairspray” is something that will be a part of their lives and help them in the future as well.

Marco De Anda, as Link Larkin, said, “It helps a person mature and grow up. All the hard work pays off. Working hard and getting to see that, it just makes it all worth it.”

Maritza Santos, who plays Tracy Turnblad said the performance helps her boost confidence and develop a new group of friends.

“Opening night will work out because of that,” she continued. “It will be that much more of a success.”

Hodgson said he remembers asking Santos in class what’s one of the greatest things that has happened to you, or funniest, or more embarrassing things, as part of an exercise.

“She told the class, one of the greatest things that ever happened to her was being chosen to play the lead in this play,” said Hodgson. “And if that’s one thing we can give her, as a student, and a person for all the time she’s here, and she can go away with feeling that pride in doing this, then it’s all worth it for me.”

Other leads in the play are Raulito Gonzalez as Wilbur Turnblad, Beto Cantu as Seaweed Stubbs, Chris Lawton as Corny Collins, and Andrea Gonzalez as Velma Von Tussle.

The play also includes 30 more dancers and singers and 11 crew members. The band consists of Brandon Hernandez, Steven Ruiz, Marcus Siegel, and Guillermo Flores. Daniella Marriero is the producer and the play is managed by Angelique Lopez and Jorge Ortiz.

Performances will take place at the VMHS Harlequin Theatre at 7 p.m. on Dec. 2-3 and the next week on Dec. 8-10. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the VMHS front office during school hours at a cost of $5 for students and $10 for adults. Tickets may also be available at the door on performance nights until sold out.

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