Tom Sankey

Director Tom Sankey oversees a rehearsal of "Hairspray." Sankey is directing his 29th consecutive Howard County Summer Theatre production. (Sumbitted photo by Jeff Stanford / June 26, 2012)

A fixture on the local nonprofit theater scene since 1975, the Howard County Summer Theatre does big musicals that involve lots of county residents both on the stage and in the audience.

That'll be the happy case when its production of "Hairspray" opens Friday, July 6, at 7 p.m., at Mt. Hebron High School.

"It has always been my vision to present quality entertainment that's family friendly and that uses actors of a variety of ages," says Tom Sankey, 59, of Ellicott City, whose direction of "Hairspray" marks his 29th consecutive summer directing for this theater company. "It's a way for the community to come together."

Based on a John Waters film comedy, the Broadway musical "Hairspray" is set in Baltimore during the early 1960s. This local production stars Caitlin Grant as Tracy Turnblad, an overweight white teenager who campaigns to allow black teens to appear on a segregated TV dance show. Tracy's even heftier mother, Edna, is played by Stephen Namie, who follows in the show's tradition of having a man play this female role.


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Among others in the cast, Zac Brightbill plays Link Larkin, a handsome and popular teen who is seemingly out of Tracy's league. Tracy must go up against Marloe Lippert as Velma von Tussle, the mean-spirited woman who controls the talent roster on the TV dance show; and Maggie Dransfield and Kassi Materra double cast as Amber von Tussle, Velma's equally snooty daughter.

Kay Washington plays Motormouth Maybelle, the black record shop owner who knows first-hand about racial discrimination in Baltimore. And, Cameron Cox plays Seaweed J. Stubs, a young black man who joins forces with Tracy in order to integrate the TV show.

"Hairspray" is the kind of large-cast musical that the Howard County Summer Theatre likes to do. Its recent seasons included such shows as "High School Musical," "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Godspell."

In addition to having 86 performers in its cast, this "Hairspray" has 20 musicians in the pit. Add in the backstage crew and others working on the show and there are around 150 people involved, Sankey says. If he has a firm command of such large numbers, it doesn't hurt that he is a math teacher at Mt. Hebron High School.

"I'm a math teacher who got involved in shows. I think I've always been involved with music and enjoyed it. The math part of me is the organizational skills," which, he adds, include such longtime collaborators as choreographer Amanda Tschirgi.

The teacher in Tom Sankey also responds to this silly musical's serious message about efforts to end segregation in Baltimore in the early 1960s.

He points out that this show illustrates how "the streets of Baltimore were totally segregated. It was a time in American history when things were starting to get volatile. It's important to understand that history and realize how far we've come. As a teacher, I love that. People don't know a lot of that stuff."

He states that the show's message of acceptance applies to everybody, "whether it's an overweight girl or the color of someone's skin."

Howard County Summer Theatre performs "Hairspray" July 6, 7, 11, 12, 13 and 14 at 7 p.m., and July 8 at 2 p.m., at Mt. Hebron High School, 9440 Route 99 in Ellicott City. Tickets are $16, $12 for children under 12 and seniors over 60. Tickets may be obtained at Music and Arts, Ticketleap or at the door. Part of the proceeds benefit the Prepare for Success program. Go to http://www.howardcountysummertheatre.org.