ELDERSBURG - After watching 25 performers sing and groove through "You Can't Stop the Beat," director Tony Cimino made an observation.
He noticed many actors were gravitating to the front of the stage. He told them to be content dancing in the back and rotate being in the spotlight when The Arts Coming Together in Carroll County performs the classic musical "Hairspray" at 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday, July 20 and 21 and 2 p.m. Saturday and July 21 at Liberty High School in Eldersburg.
The community arts organization is in its fifth summer of performing spotlight shows, with each one more ambitious than the last. This year's production is based on the Broadway musical about a girl named Tracy Turnblad (Rainelle Jochum), who aspires to dance on a 1960s Baltimore TV program hosted by Corny Collins (Curtis Brothers) and then integrate the show.
"Hairspray" features 25 actors, 14 musicians and more than a dozen of other volunteers working behind the scenes.
It's quite a departure from "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," TACTICC's debut effort, at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster four years ago. A lack of stage space was never a problem for that production. "Charlie Brown" had a cast and crew of 12. The orchestra pit for "Hairspray" alone boasts more participants than that.
The diverse cast includes performers from throughout the region, including a few making their TACTICC debuts. Many are teens. A few are adults. They all are willing to help because they are devoted to the organization and wanted a shot at performing "Hairspray," which is making its Carroll County debut this weekend, Cimino said.
"It's been a fantastic group to work with," said Christopher Ion, who is cross-dressing in a wig and dress for the role of Edna, Tracy's mother. "It's one of those companies that becomes a family."
That's because, in many instances, multiple family members are taking part. Kristen Ion, Christophers' daughter, is the music director. Many of the musicians return year after year, giving TACTICC an advantage many community theater organizations in the country just don't have, Cimino said. Most no longer utilize orchestra pits, he said.
"It's a loyal group," Kristen said.
"Hairspray" is based on the 1988 John Waters film. It debuted on Broadway 10 years ago and won eight Tony Awards during a seven-year run. Toby's Dinner Theater secured the rights to "Hairspray" when they first became available, preventing community theater groups nearby from performing it. Now that the rights are available to community groups, several in the region are performing it.
It's an ambitious show to take on, Cimino said. Cast and crew have just one week to work out complicated music and dance numbers on the Liberty High School stage.
It's not cheap to rent out a high school theater space, said Allison Neal, TACTICC's Board of Directors President who also portrays Velma Von Tussle in "Hairspray." Prior rehearsals took place at Project C Studios in Westminster. Project C owner Jen Graham is TACTICC's choreographer.
"It's challenging to work things in on the fly," Neal said, "but this cast has been super-committed."
Most of the original TACTICC cast for "Charlie Brown" has moved on to star in college programs all over the country. Cimino, TACTICC's artistic director, thanked the original group in the "Hairspray" playbill.
He spent Tuesday patrolling the Liberty auditorium during a rehearsal working with cast and crew, some experienced in their jobs, some not. The group devoted time to "You Can't Stop the Beat," which showcased the talents of the more than 40 performers that are part of the show. The musicians kept the fast-paced beat, the actors danced in synergy and there were even a few back flips mixed in.
The girls wore huge wigs on a set designed to conjure up memories of 1960s Baltimore in TACTICC's most ambitious performance yet.
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"The hair is ridiculous," Cimino said. "We are pulling out all the stops and hoping to surprise everyone."