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Heart set on Broadway's 'Hairspray'

Playing Seaweed J. Stubbs, Najee Banks dances in a dress rehearsal of McDaniel College's production of "Hairspray" at WMC Alumni Hall in Westminster Monday night, October 1, 2012.
Playing Seaweed J. Stubbs, Najee Banks dances in a dress rehearsal of McDaniel College's production of "Hairspray" at WMC Alumni Hall in Westminster Monday night, October 1, 2012. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

When Shelley Hierstetter graduates from McDaniel College next year, she plans on moving to New York with a few friends and try to make a name for herself.

She loves musical theater. It's what she does. It's what she wants to do. Her heart is set on Broadway.

So when she found out that the popular Broadway musical "Hairspray" would be McDaniel's first theater performance of the academic year, she was more than a little excited about the opportunity.

Hierstetter is taking on the role of Amber Von Tussle at 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday on the WMC Alumni Hall stage on McDaniel's Westminster campus.

"Hairspray" follows plus-sized heroine Tracy Turnblad (junior Kelsey Gondek), who earns a role on "The Corny Collins Show" in 1960s Baltimore. She is on a quest to integrate the popular TV program and unseat Von Tussle as the show's female star.

For Hierstetter, this is a chance for her to perform a role she's wanted in a show she's long admired.

"As horrible and nasty and mean as she is," Hierstetter said of her character, "I've always wanted to give her a go."

By now, the cast is well-acquainted with the Broadway musical, which won eight Tony Awards, and the 2007 film featuring John Travolta and Zac Efron.

"I've been watching the Broadway show online," said sophomore Najee Banks, who performs as Tracy's dancing friend Seaweed. "And I've probably watched the movie at least 40 times."

The actors are aware that most of their audience will likely be familiar with either the movie, the show or both.

McDaniel sophomore Daniel Valentin-Morales, who performs as Tracy's hunky love interest Link, spent the entire summer working out knowing that he was taking on Efron's movie role.

The performers know the cast will expect gigantic wigs, a cross-dressing Edna (Kevin Anderson), a quirky Penny (Hillary Deweese), a stuck-up Velma (Karly Ziegler) and a proud, confident Motormouth (Chesney Jamison).

And that's what they provide.

While the "Hairspray" performers are staying true to their characters, they also wanted to give the characters their own unique twist.

"You want to see something different," Burks said, "otherwise, you are just wasting your money buying a ticket."

"Hairspray" is being performed at McDaniel, in part, because theater department chairwoman Elizabeth van den Berg purchased a ticket to see a "Hairspray" performance by the Signature Theater in Alexandria, Va., earlier this year.

"While I was watching," she said, "it dawned on me that we can do this here."

The "Hairspray" cast of more than 30 is the largest of any show van den Berg's directed at McDaniel. More than 60 students tried out, which is nearly 4 percent of McDaniel College's enrolled undergraduates.

For Hierstetter, it's a rare chance at performing a lead role in a major musical, which she hopes to do more of in her professional future in New York.

"I'm going," she said of New York, "I felt like I would hate myself if I didn't."

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