The year 1962 might seem like it belongs to a distant era to adults these days. If you're a teenager, though, it's more like prehistoric times.
So learned director Stephanie Williams as she went about staging a revival of the musical "Hairspray," which opens Friday, June 17 at the Drama Learning Center. The Broadway hit, which revolves around a TV dance program in the early 1960s, had so many retro references that Williams had the kids in her Teaching Young Actors company looking into the culture of the times.
"They'll be telling a joke and I'll ask if they know why it's funny," explains Williams, who also owns the Drama learning Center. "They'll answer no, and I have to say, 'Well, look it up because your parents are going to laugh and you need to know why.' "
In spite of having to imagine a time period before cell phones and cable TV, Williams' young charges are taking to the musical much like main character Tracy Turnblad takes to "The Corny Collins" TV show.
The musical, which was adapted from John Waters' 1988 movie, is about Turnblad's obsession with becoming a featured dancer on Collins' program, which was sort of the Baltimore equivalent of "American Bandstand." When she wins a part on the show, she becomes a celebrity and sets about trying to "integrate" the program by bringing on black dancers.
Williams says the musical's Baltimore setting might be local, but it is still largely unfamiliar terrain for her students.
"We were talking about 'What does Baltimore mean to you?' and they're like 'Oh, the Inner Harbor,' and talking about very contemporary things. They hadn't necessarily been exposed to some of the really iconic images from that time, so we had them do an image research project where they had to look at images of Baltimore from the 1960s."
The production, says Williams, is the largest she has done to date with her teen troupe. It will feature 25 actors and a lot of material.
"It's just a big show," she notes. "It's bigger than people realize — a lot of singing and a lot of choreography."
To that end, Williams employed two of her regular cohorts to help her bring the work to life. Tiffany Underwood Holmes, will serve as musical director, while Jason Kimmell will choreograph.
The cast includes Meghan Anderson, Peter Augustine, Katie Bogdan, Alicia Carroll, Claire Cerand, Vanessa Chapoy, Tamra Flowers, Carter Grove, Kristina Hedges, Kristina Hopkins, Barrett Law, Jeff Miller, Mareya Norris, Benjamin Pittman, Alex Press, Alex Rothfield, Lisa Satchell, Katie Scheidt, Brady Stevens, Laura Taylor, Amanda Updegrove, Anna Wehr, Amy Williamson and Sarah Winchell.
No matter how smooth the final product might look when it premieres, Williams says her young actors put a lot of work into getting it together.
"The class used to meet just once a week, but with a show like this we've had to add rehearsals," she says. "In the last few weeks, we've really been trying hard to fit everything in."
The Drama Learning Center's Teaching Young Actors program will present "Hairspray" on Fridays and Saturdays, June 17-18 and 23-24, and Sunday, June 25 at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances will also be given Sundays, June 19 and 25 at 2 p.m. (June 25 will be an understudy performance).
All performances take place at the Drama Learning Center, 9130-I Red Branch Road, Columbia. Admission is $15 in advance, $16 at the door ($12 in advance for groups of 10 or more). Call 410-997-9352 or go to http://www.dramalearningcenter.com.