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A debut at home

When Hairspray launches its national tour at the Mechanic Theatre on Tuesday, one cast member will be making his professional debut in his former home state.

And no one is more surprised than that actor himself - Bryan West. A 1995 graduate of the Baltimore School for the Arts, where he majored in voice, West, 26, fully expected to spend his career as a musician.

The series of events that led him to Hairspray began two weeks into his freshman year at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., when he auditioned for a European TV series about a band called 5NY.

"I got the job and ended up being in Europe for four years," West said last week during a break in Hairspray rehearsals. "It was my first real acting experience. All of a sudden I had movie cameras in my face."

After the project ended in 2000, West moved to Los Angeles and returned to the life of a musician, working primarily on commercials and music videos, including those for 'N Sync (as a stand-in for Justin Timberlake), Shakira and Mariah Carey.

He was about to shoot a car commercial when he read about open auditions for the tour of Hairspray, a show he'd been encouraged to try out for by his friend, actress Alicia Silverstone, who'd seen it when she was in New York starring in The Graduate. Though West hadn't seen the musical, he owned the video of the 1988 John Waters' movie on which it is based and calls himself as "a huge John Waters fan."

After his initial audition, West was called back five more times. "I was doing night [commercial] shoots in Big Bear, a resort town two hours outside L.A.," he said. "I would finish at 6 a.m., drive back to L.A. just in time to do another callback, on no sleep whatsoever. I did that three days in a row."

His sleepless nights paid off. Two days after his last callback, he was hired to play Sketch, a member of the elite "Council" of teen dancers on The Corny Collins Show, Hairspray's version of WJZ's former Buddy Deane Show. West also understudies the role of Link, the TV show's heartthrob, who becomes the boyfriend of protagonist Tracy Turnblad.

A self-taught guitar player, West bought his first guitar in seventh grade, paying for it with his allowance and Christmas money. The New Orleans native and his parents, Cherri, an accountant, and Chris, who works in insurance, were living in Riviera Beach, Md., and after a few years, his teachers at George Fox Middle School encouraged him to audition for the Baltimore School for the Arts.

Twelve years later, West said he finds it reassuring to be making his stage debut in the town where he received his musical training. "Maybe it just means I'm on the right track," he said, "and I'm having a really good time."

Hairspray will be at the Mechanic Theatre, 25 Hopkins Plaza, Sept. 9-21. Show times are 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 6:30 p.m. Sept. 14, 5 p.m. Sept. 21; matinees at 2 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Sept. 14 and noon Sept. 21. Tickets are $30.50-$75.50 (ticket availability is limited). Call 410-481-SEAT or visit the box office.

Redgrave, Carradine coming to Mechanic

British actress Lynn Redgrave and film and TV actor Robert Carradine will head the cast when The Exonerated, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen's play based on interviews with death row inmates, comes to the Mechanic Theatre Nov. 11-23. Both actors are veterans of the off-Broadway production and, coincidentally, members of renowned acting families.

Redgrave, a Golden Globe Award winner and Academy Award nominee for Gods and Monsters, received her first Oscar nomination for Georgy Girl. Other film credits include Tom Jones and Shine. The most recent of her extensive stage credits was a six-month run in the off-Broadway production of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads.

Carradine's film work includes Lizzie McGuire, Mean Streets, The Long Riders and Revenge of the Nerds. On TV, he has played a recurring role in several series, including his brother David's Kung Fu.

Tickets to The Exonerated are $22.50 to $60 and go on sale Sept. 21. Call 410-481-SEAT.

Bus to Broadway for annual auction

Seats are still available on one of the buses chartered to take local theater aficionados to the 17th annual Broadway Flea Market, held to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS in New York on Sunday.

Among the stars at the celebrity autograph table will be Harvey Fierstein, Joel Grey, Bebe Neuwirth and Chita Rivera. Items up for auction range from the red leather boots worn by Michael Crawford in Dance of the Vampires to walk-on roles in Broadway shows.

The bus leaves Baltimore at 7:15 a.m. and returns at approximately 10 p.m. Tickets are $40. Call 410-483-1162 or email stagesbalti@aol.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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