Top Hat Productions wants to make the casting of the lead in their upcoming production of the 2002 Tony-winning musical “Hairspray” a more democratic process than usual. On Friday, the top-four candidates for the role of pleasingly plump Baltimore teen Tracy Turnblad will perform in a public audition at the Fairview Arts and Outreach Center. (The contestants will be judged on their singing ability, movement skills and overall performance). Audience members will get to vote by using a remote digital box they’ll receive upon entering the theater.
This “American Idol” approach to casting was Top Hat founder Brian Palumbo’s idea. “I knew we’d have a big turnout for auditions,” he explained in a recent interview. “And since we’re planning to pull out all of the stops with this production, I thought: Why not open the process up and let the community help us decide who should play Tracy?”
Finding the perfect Tracy Turnblad was, understandably, Palumbo’s chief concern going into Top Hat’s lengthy audition process. “It takes a special actress to play such a multi-dimensional role. Tracy’s very confident, yet she’s also slightly timid. She has to be overweight but still outshine everyone else in the cast with her singing and dancing abilities,” he explained.
Palumbo believes that the civil-rights-themed “Hairspray” is a perfect fit for his multi-cultural theater company. “Through stage productions and various community outreach programs, Top Hat brings together different social and economic groups in a nonthreatening, nondiscriminatory setting. ‘Blood Brothers,’ ‘Aida,’ ‘Ragtime’ and ‘Hairspray’ all share that common theme,” Palumbo said. “Not only are we performing the message in our shows, but we’re living it as well. That’s another reason why ‘Hairspray’ fits so well on our stage.”