TCT pays tribute to early rock-era with ‘Hairspray’

Thomas Wells Tupelo Community Theatre newcomer Gabriela Nieto-Hale stars as Baltimore teenager Tracy Turnblad in the musical “Hairspray,” opening next week at the Lyric Theater.

Thomas Wells
Tupelo Community Theatre newcomer Gabriela Nieto-Hale stars as Baltimore teenager Tracy Turnblad in the musical “Hairspray,” opening next week at the Lyric Theater.

By W. Derek Russell
Daily Journal

TUPELO – Baltimore, 1962. Rock ‘n’ roll is king, hormones are raging, integration is shunned and plus-sized teenager Tracy Turnblad is ready to fulfill her dream of dancing on “The Corny Collins Show.”

“Hairspray,” based on the 1988 film of the same name, packs a lot of social elements into one production, but Tupelo Community Theatre executive director Tom Booth said there’s much more to the multifaceted musical.

“I don’t think I really wrapped my brain around how big of a show this is,” said Booth, who is also directing the musical. “I’ve always been a fan, but you forget the amount of everything in this show. There’s so much dancing and singing. There’s so much of everything in this show.”

Booth said nearly 100 people auditioned for the upcoming TCT production, which made his job even harder.

“We had deep callbacks in almost every area,” he said. “There was so much talent. For (the role of) Tracy alone, we called eight back. We had huge talent come out.”

But Booth knew when he found his Tracy in 17-year-old Gabriela Nieto-Hale from Belmont.

“She is literally a rock ‘n’ roll star,” Booth said of her. “She’s unbelievably talented and appeared from out of nowhere. That’s the great thing about community theater, people show up that we’ve never met and try out.”

Nieto-Hale has been driving more than 45 minutes to Tupelo each night for rehearsals, but much like Tracy, she’s ready for her spotlight.

“This is definitely a dream come true,” Nieto-Hale said of getting to be a part of “Hairspray.” “I have loved this show since I was 8 years old. I’ve been acting since I was 13 and singing since I was 2.”

A senior at Belmont High School, Nieto-Hale is plenty busy as one chapter of her life is coming to close. But “Hairspray” is a big part of her next chapter.

“Theater is something I really love and it’s something I want to do for the rest of my life,” she said. “This is a big dream for me and I don’t care what obstacles I face, this is what I want to do.”

Booth said his entire cast (around 30) is very dedicated to this show and each one brings something different to the story, much like the various characters in “Hairspray” do.

“I’m thankful to have so many people working hard on this,” Booth said. “This show is so well-known and it takes a lot of people to bring it to life.”

Recent revivals, like the 2007 motion picture starring John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer or the NBC live broadcast from 2016, often come to mind, but Booth said this is a tried and true musical that deserves to be seen on stage.

“It’s high energy,” Booth said. “It’s not the groovy flower-power ‘60s. It’s rock ‘n’ roll and everyone loves that.”

“Hairspray” opens at the Lyric Theater next week. For tickets, call (662) 844-1935.

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