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Friday, 19 April 2019 12:21 am

Whitireia students shine in NZ premiere of smash hit musical

HAIRSPRAY STARS: Whitireia Performing Arts students, from left, Sam McLeod (Sketch), Bridget Connor (Penny Pingleton) and Nick Purdie (Corny Collins).

THE musical was a smash hit on Broadway – and now students from Whitireia Polytechnic will feature prominently in its New Zealand premiere.

The Wellington Musical Theatre production of Hairspray, which opens next week at the Opera House, stars 26 musical theatre students from the Whitireia Performing Arts Centre, whose talent and professionalism stood out amongst a record number of people auditioning for the show.

“This round saw the largest auditionee turn-out in over a decade and the quality of the talent on display was superb,” says executive producer Michael Highsted.

The Whitireia students without exception presented themselves well for the audition process, he says.

Whitireia students past and present make up nearly half the cast.  The cast of 54 includes five  grads are inand 21 current students.

Nick Purdie, who is in his third year of a Bachelor of Applied Arts (Musical Theatre) at Whitireia, is one of the leads in Hairspray and credits the support he has received at the polytechnic for his role in the show.

“Our tutors really helped us prepare for the auditions, which gave us more confidence,” says Nick (21), who plays suave dance show host Corny Collins.

“They taught us a lot about professionalism and how to present ourselves. Our tutors treat us like their professional peers. Their main objective is to get us work.”

Nick, recently directed a sell-out performance of Chess at Wellington College, and hopes to play Corny Collins with the same “sassiness and confidence” as Hollywood actor James Marsden (who played the character in a 2007 film adaption of Hairspray).

“The musical has it all – the sets, the costumes. It’s a big scale show.

“It’s happy and fun, but still topical. It wasn’t all that long ago this stuff [the racial segregation in the US] was happening. Audiences will remember it.”

Sam McLeod, who plays Sketch, one of the “council kids”, believes the 1960s setting of Hairspray is a large part of its appeal.

“There are serious themes, but it’s also all about escapism,” says Sam (25), whose past acting roles have ranged from playing a transvestite prostitute with obsessive compulsive disorder in Kiwi stage comedy Stiff, to Mungogerie in Cats.

“The 60s was fun. People escaped through dance and by going to dance halls. And the fashion was so bad it’s good.”

Sam, who first learned to dance at age 20, has also enjoyed the 1960s-themed choreography in the show.

“It’s very 60s, very jumpy, and high energy. We have to be so cheesy and so excited. We also have to be very, very fit. And we usually only get two days to learn a routine.”

Bridget Connor (20), who plays the naïve and “geeky” Penny Pingleton, has also been challenged by her role in Hairspray, both as an actor and singer.

“It’s unreal. I can’t believe I got the role,” says Bridget, who hopes to channel Broadway actress Kerry Butler in her performance as Penny.

“I never considered myself an actress, let alone a comedic actress. As Penny, I’m also singing above my usual range. But if I do stuff up the high notes, I can work it into my character.

She says there is a vote on the show’s Facebook page on what character people most want to see in the show after the movie.

“People will come to the show and expect it to see the movie, but they’ll get a lot more. It’s on its own playing field.”

Nick, Sam and Bridget have all been performing since their childhood, and have had roles in various Wellington productions, including Grease, High School Musical, 42nd Street, Cats, The Gleevent and the Fringe shows Hot Toxic Love and Zomburlesque.

The students’ tutor, Michael Nicholas Williams (music director for the musical theatre course), aims to prepare young performers for the industry in a practical way, with “lots of singing, lots of dancing and lots of acting”.

“The course is very difficult and requires a lot of hard work and commitment. We try to work to industry standards,” says Michael, who is the musical director for Hairspray.

Hairspray runs from August 1 to 11 at the Opera House on Manners St. Tickets are available from Ticketek.

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is a Whitireia journalism student, most passionate about the arts and social justice issues. Sometimes, she even combines the two.
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