'Hairspray' is lofty production for Augusta Players

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Claudia Ballas Latch waited all year to audition for one role: Tracy Turnblad in The Augusta Players' production of Hairspray.

Maggie Salley (from left), Tian Richards, Claudia Ballas Latch and Paul Jones rehearse a scene from The Augusta Players' production of Hairspray. Opening night curtain goes up on April 29.   Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
Maggie Salley (from left), Tian Richards, Claudia Ballas Latch and Paul Jones rehearse a scene from The Augusta Players' production of Hairspray. Opening night curtain goes up on April 29.

The gamble paid off, and Latch landed the starring role and her first time to play a lead character.

The mother of an 18-month-old daughter, she said she gained some extra weight during her pregnancy, which worked out to her advantage.

"I put the extra baby weight to good use. For the role of Tracy, you classically have to be heavy," Latch said.

With her full-time work schedule and responsibilities as a mother, she had taken a temporary break from theater.

"I decided not to audition for anything else, hoping that I would land this role. It was a gamble ... because there's really no other spot for someone heavy. I knew going into it that this would be the only role that was suited for me," Latch said.

Director Debi Ballas said the stage production of Hairspray marks another first for Augusta.

"It is the first time this show will be produced by any local theater company. This is the first opportunity that local theater companies have had across the nation to present this production because it was released last spring," Ballas said. "It's very new. This was a smash hit on Broadway. Because of its mass popularity, there are theater companies across the nation that jumped at the opportunity to present this production."

The Augusta Players is closing out its season with the popular, Tony Award-winning show. The diverse cast of Hairspray has about 30 actors.

"We have a marvelous cast. The movie was wonderful, but the stage production is even better. It's non-stop energy from the time the curtain goes up," Ballas said.

Set in the 1960s before desegregation, Hairspray deals with many sensitive issues, such as race and prejudice on several levels, but "in a light and humorous way." The story line centers on Turnblad, a pleasingly plump teenager whose optimism and energy is inspiring, Ballas said.

"She wants to dance on the Corny Collins show, but she's shunned because of her weight. She's made fun of, and not only does she inspire change for herself, but she inspires change for her African-American friends as well. She rallies for their cause," Ballas said.

Latch said she was immediately drawn to Turnblad's bubbly personality.

"Everybody likes to say that I'm very much like Tracy. I don't see color. I don't see race. I don't see weight. I think Tracy's very much like that. She's not a very plastic person. She's not about what you look like. She's about who you are as a person," Latch said.

She's having a blast, but Latch said that playing Tracy's character is demanding. The role really required her to put on her dancing shoes.

"She's sort of the bridge way between the black and the white. She's the one who tries to integrate. A lot of it is the dancing, so as the actress, you have to be able to move," Latch said.

John Hutchens landed the role of Edna Turnblad, Tracy's mother. A nine-year veteran to the stage, he didn't shy away from auditioning to play a woman.

"This has always been a dream role ever since they talked about doing this show. I've played several women in other theatrical productions," Hutchens said.

Edna Turnblad's character is fun and has been historically played by a man, he said.

"She's not a womanly woman. There are times when she slips into a deep voice ... which makes it funny," Hutchens said.

Hutchens and Ballas agree that Hairspray is a challenging production.

"This show is extremely challenging because every musical number is a huge production," Ballas said. "The choreography is nonstop from the minute the curtains go up until the moment they go down. It's a high-energy show and requires high energy from its performers. It's vocally challenging. From a choreography standpoint, it's very challenging. It's really very underestimated. The show is going to be great. We have a very, very talented cast. I think the community is in for a huge treat."

Onstage

WHAT: Hairspray, a stage production by The Augusta Players

WHEN: 8 p.m. April 29-30 and 3 p.m. May 1

WHERE: Imperial Theatre, 749 Broad St.

DETAILS: Rated PG-13 for language and subject matter

TICKETS: www.augustaplayers.org


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