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'Hairspray' to showcase mix of Phoenix Theatre veterans and newcomers

Peter Amendolar as Corny Collins and Chelsea Indrehus as Tracy Turnblad chat after a dance number. (Photo by Samantha Bengs)

As Thursday’s opening night of the Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Hairspray” approaches, the cast, pit orchestra and crew have been busy rehearsing in the Sheldon Theatre. The family-friendly, rock-n-roll musical — winner of eight Tony awards — displays significant social messages with laughter, romance and trademark 1960s style. With the set design, costumes and language holding true and authentic to an early ‘60s Baltimore setting, audiences will be taken back in time. Directed by Sean Dowse, the cast of “Hairspray” showcases a handful of Phoenix Theatre veterans mixed with some brand new faces to center stage.

In her dream role, veteran of the Sheldon stage Chelsea Indrehus portrays Tracy Turnblad. Indrehus recalls identifying with the character while watching the film in her youth. Seeing a production five years ago at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre only intensified her desire to play Turnblad. Indrehus says her favorite things about Tracy are her confidence and her sense of social justice. To anyone who may be unsure if they want to see the show, Indrehus offers some sage advice.

“Why wouldn’t they want to come? It’s a great show; it’s upbeat, it has a powerful message and we have a great cast of very talented people,” Indrehus said.

Davis Leaf has also been in several Phoenix productions. Leaf plays Seaweed J. Stubbs, a talented black dancer who appears regularly on the monthly “Negro Day” hosted by the Corny Collins Show. Stubbs befriends Tracy and teaches her how to dance. Leaf recently moved to White Bear Lake, Minn., but came back specifically to do this show. Leaf notes his character’s enthusiasm and his love for music, dancing, and people in general. “He sees the wrong in the world, but he doesn’t hate anybody,” he said. “He’s not a hateful person at all. He’s an ambitious person, insightful, and he sees the good in everyone.”

Leaf agrees that audiences will find much to enjoy in this play. “If you want really good humor, a really fun time in the theatre, just a good story to follow, and a good group of characters to root for, with a good message, then this is the show to see.”

Another familiar face to the Sheldon stage, Jeff Chalmers, plays Tracy’s mother, Edna Turnblad. Chalmers said the most challenging thing about this role, next to finding shoes that fit, is the physicality of portraying a woman. He’s fighting his natural urge to “slip into just being a guy.” But Chalmers went looking for this challenge; he auditioned specifically for this role, which was played by Divine in the original film and John Travolta in the remake. According to Chalmers, the message of the show is, “It’s OK to be you.”

This large cast also includes newcomers to the Sheldon stage and to theatre in general. Rosalynn Stone says her favorite part of playing Motormouth Maybelle Stubbs (Seaweed’s mother and the host of “Negro Day”) is that she’s “...real sassy and brassy and just down to earth.” Stone says she has a little bit of the sass in herself, but she watched the 2007 version of Hairspray, and has been modeling her character after Queen Latifah’s portrayal. Stone decided to audition on a whim, not expecting to be cast, but, come Thursday night, she will be in the spotlight. “I love it,” Stone says. “As Motormouth says in one of her songs ‘You gotta love yourself from the inside out.”

“Hairspray” opens July 21 and will run six performances through July 31. For more information, visit www.sheldontheatre.org.

If you go...

•Who: Phoenix Theatre

•What: “Hairspray”

•When: 7 p.m. Thursday; 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 7:30 p.m. July 29 and 30; 3 p.m. July 31

•How much: $10-20

•More: www.sheldontheatre.org, 651-388-8700

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