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UNC goes hairy over 'Hairspray'

VIEW SLIDESHOWGREELEY - Hairdos and excitement are on the rise for the University of Northern Colorado's (UNC) Theatre Arts program.

The program has been selected by leading theatrical licensor, Music Theatre International (MTI), and the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA), the professional organization for theatre education, to direct Hairspray at the 2008 International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Vance Fulkerson, professor of Theatre Arts and the Head of the Musical Theatre Program at UNC, will lead a cast and crew of 48 talented high school students from 18 states, in presenting the first amateur production of the musical which is still enjoying tremendous success on Broadway and on tour across the country.

Marc Shaiman, the Grammy and Tony award-winning composer and co-lyricist of Hairspray, even flew in to Greeley to applaud the cast during their first rehearsal weekend at University of Northern Colorado, Friday, March 28 and Saturday, March 29. Both Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray co-lyricist) will travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to see the cast and crew present the show on Tuesday, June 24.

Fulkerson will direct the show, while UNC's Anne Toewe will serve as a technical coordinator, UNC's Mary Schuttler will be the production manager and acting coach, UNC's Monte Black will be the show's choreographer, UNC's Brian Hapcic will serve as the show's lighting designer, UNC's Marie Davis-Green will be the show's set designer, UNC's Dr. Emily Moss will be the show's choral director, UNC student Ryan Dinning will serve as the cast and crew coordinator, UNC's Mark Payne will be the show's sound designer and UNC's Kevin Bautch will serve as the show's technical director.

The students have gathered for three intensive rehearsal periods in the Spring of 2008 (March 27-30; May 15-18, and June 12-22) at the University of Northern Colorado, and will present preview performances in Greeley on Thursday, June 19 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, June 20 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, June 21 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in the Helen Langworthy Theatre at the University of Northern Colorado's Frasier Hall, located at 9th Avenue and 17th Street in Greeley. Tickets are $18 for adults, $11 for non-UNC students, $8 for UNC students and $16 for seniors and may be ordered by calling 970-351-2300.

They will then travel to present the show to thousands of teachers, students and theatre leaders on Tuesday, June 24 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska.

"Our area has such a tremendous creative community and thriving cultural scene," said Fulkerson. "I am delighted that these students will have the chance to see all that we have to offer when they are here for their Hairspray rehearsals.quot;

Six area students are involved in the show. Sam Lips, who lives in Parker and is a senior at Denver School of the Arts, will be performing as one of the "nicest kids in town." Lips was cast in last year's EdTA premiere of Thoroughly Modern Millie School Edition. Jenna Moll Reyes, who also attends Denver School of the Arts, who lives in Aurora, will be performing the role of Muffy, one of the nicest kids in town. Molly Brynteson, a sophomore at Greeley West Senior High School, who lives in Greeley, has been cast in the role of Amber Von Tussle. Jon Shockness, a senior at Denver School of the Arts, who lives in Denver, will be performing as one of the Dynamos. Brenna Larsen, a senior at Pomona High School, who lives in Westminster, will also be performing as one of the "nicest kids in town." Dennis Culpepper, a junior at Grandview High School who lives in Centennial, will be serving on the technical crew.

"I continue to admire the work of Vance and his team at the University of Northern Colorado, and was very impressed by the extraordinary leadership and talent exhibited by the students selected for Hairspray's cast and crew," said John Prignano, senior operations officer at MTI. "It will be great to see the creative process unfold when they all gather in Greeley for rehearsals.quot;

The cast and crew are all members of the International Thespian Society, EdTA's honorary organization for middle and secondary school theatre arts students. MTI and EdTA conducted a national casting search for outstanding members at EdTA regional and chapter events around the country in Spring, 2007. Callbacks were held at the 2007 Thespian Festival on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

It's another honor for UNC's distinguished Theatre Arts Program, a nationally-recognized drama program which also serves as a community gathering-point for the performing arts. UNC graduates have compiled an impressive list of credits including leading roles in the Broadway and National Tour productions of Wicked, Hairspray, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Cats, Miss Saigon, A Chorus Line, and Starlight Express. UNC's professional company "Little Theatre of the Rockies" has produced many leading shows including Urinetown: The Musical, Death of a Salesman, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Music Man, House of Blue Leaves, and My Fair Lady.

With a book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittman, Hairspray is based on the 1988 New Line Cinema film by John Waters. The "bouffant" Broadway production has been running since 2002 and won eight Tony awards. Last year, New Line Cinema released a film adaptation of the stage version, starring John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, and Queen Latifah, which has grossed over $140 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.

Hairspray captures the spirit and turmoil of 1962 Baltimore. The story follows Tracy Turnblad, a full-figured girl with "full-figured" hair and a big heart who has only one passion – to dance. When her determination and rock 'n roll moves lands her a spot on a local television dance program, "The Corny Collins Show," she is transformed from an outsider to an irrepressible teen celebrity. This trendsetter in dance and fashion uses her fame to try to win the heart of heartthrob Link Larkin, challenge the program's reigning princess, and rally against racial segregation… all without denting her quot;do.quot;

"The members of the Hairspray cast and crew represent some of the finest high school talent from many different troupes within our organization," said Michael Peitz, executive director of EdTA. "By coming together as a team to present a full-fledged musical in a short amount of time, these young artists have the unique opportunity to experience first-hand the exhilaration and challenges of a career in the arts.quot;

The effort to make this popular show available for student performers is indicative of MTI's mandate to mentor children and young adults through the arts. In 2003, MTI's Educational division released an authorized high school version of the award-winning musical Les Misérables, which, according to Dramatics Magazine, was the number one produced musical in high schools that year. MTI also premiered Thoroughly Modern Millie School Edition and Ragtime School Edition at the 2007 and 2005 International Thespian Festivals respectively.

Twelve years ago, music entrepreneur Freddie Gershon – sharing the concern of a number of authors of great musicals that the next generation of theatre-goers had been lost to cultural shifts like budget cuts and video games – began developing MTI's theatre for schools program. Its educational theatre division adapts great musical theatre into age-appropriate student versions, with accompanying resources for teachers, so that anyone can put on a musical with children in their community. Since their inception, MTI's Broadway Junior, KIDS and School Edition Collections have been responsible for performances by over two million students in more than 20,000 productions above and beyond the licensing of regular full-length titles in schools and communities around the world.