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Wednesday, Aug. 07, 2013

One play, two very different stages -- ‘Hairspray’ moves to The Theatre in the Park

Special to The Star

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Showtime “Hairspray,” The Theatre in the Park’s final production of the 2013 season, runs tonight, Sunday and again Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Shawnee Mission Park. Curtain time is 8:30 p.m. For more information call 913-327-8054 or visit www.theatreinthepark.org. The Theatre’s movie under the stars Tuesday is “Singin’ in the Rain” at 8:30 p.m. Admission is $1.

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“Hairspray” ended its run at the Jewish Community Center last weekend, but another chance to catch the show started this week thanks to a new agreement the center and The Theater in the Park.

This is the first co-production between the two theater organizations in which the expense of sets, costumes and props is shared and the same cast performs at both theaters under the direction of Mark Swezey.

The unusual agreement was reached earlier this year by Swezey, director of theater at the Jewish Community Center, and Tim Bair, producing artistic director at The Theatre in the Park, when the rights to “Hairspray” became available to both organizations.

“We both wanted to produce it. We talked it over and agreed it made sense financially to produce it together rather than competing,” Bair said. “Each theater keeps its own gate receipts.”

The move to The Theatre in the Park began at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, when the curtain fell on the final performance at the Jewish Community Center, and was completed by 11 p.m., said Ken Schmidt, technical director at JCC. “It went smoothly. We rented a truck and moved everything in three trips.”

“It was a cooperative effort. We had two crews — mine and Jason Harris’ crew from The Theatre in the Park. It would have been a big job for one crew,” Schmidt said.

Emily Cramer, who designed the sets, had to factor the move between theaters into her work.

“It was a bit of a challenge to design sets that could be used in both theaters because of the difference in stage sizes — 40 feet at JCC and 70 feet at The Theatre in the Park,” she said. Cramer lives in Kansas City and designed sets for “Legally Blonde” and “Urinetown” at The Theatre in the Park last season.

Jessica Alcorn, a 2009 graduate of Olathe East, has the lead role of Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray,” her 13th appearance at The Theatre in the Park. Her first was “Evita” when she was 10 years old. “It’s always special to play at The Theatre. I just hope it doesn’t get too hot,” she said.

“I’ve wanted to play Tracy for a long time. Usually I play someone’s best friend. It’s fun to have a different role like Tracy,” said Alcorn, who lives in Shawnee. “Tracy’s an amazing girl. She proves if you reach for your dreams they can come true. Tracy follows her heart and stays with what she believes in.”

Jay Coombes portrays Tracy’s mother, Edna Turnblad. “I’ve wanted to play Edna since I saw ‘Hairspray’ on Broadway in 2004,” said Coombes, who’s acted in more than 20 shows at The Theatre in the Park and directed four.

“Edna reminds me so much of my mother,” Coombes said. “She’s fiercely loyal to her family, a meticulous housekeeper and she’s her own person. It’s a tribute to my mom.”

Coombes, who lives in Lenexa, said the move from JCC to The Theatre in the Park was no problem for the cast. “Just hotter there,” he said with a laugh.

Beth Benedict was in “Legally Blonde” last summer at The Theatre in the Park and before that had roles in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “The Wedding Singer.” She agrees with Coombes. “It’s different, going from an air-conditioned theater to the great outdoors.”

Benedict grew up in Lenexa and has spent much of the last three years appearing in commercials and films in the Los Angeles area. She portrays Amber Von Tussle, Tracy’s rival, in “Hairspray.”

“Amber is definitely a different role for me. This time I get to be one of the bad guys, mean and obnoxious, especially to Tracy. That’s quite a switch because in real life Jessica and I are best friends,” Benedict said.

For Trevor French, who’s appeared in 12 shows at JCC, outdoor theater is a new experience. “This is my first show at The Theatre in the Park. I picked a good time, August,” said French who portrays Wilbur Turnblad, Tracy’s father.

“I like playing Wilbur. I wasn’t too sure about him at first. He’s kind of silly, a little eccentric. But he’s a good father. He adores his family and his daughter, Tracy. He comes through for her at a crucial time,” French said.

Corny Collins, who runs the dance show that Tracy longs to try out for, is played by Brent Nanney, a student at Rockhurst University. “I didn’t care much for Corny at first. He’s one of those types always smiling, putting on a show, kind of a TV personality,” said Nanney, a native of St. Louis.

“It’s hard for me to play a character like that because I’m not that way in real life. I’m not an over the top, energetic type,” he explained. “But I like Corny now. I realize he’s like he is for a reason. He really wants to change what’s going on around him. I understand him now.”

Nanney has been a regular performer in outdoor theater in St Louis. “So I’m used to the heat,” he said.

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