Happily cast in an imporant role, an Andover High School sophomore is one of 20 Andover actors who will help teach 1962 Baltimore a thing or two about integration in the musical "Hairspray!"
Fifteen-year-old Joe Benjamin admires the musical's civil rights history lesson, but certainly doesn't dwell on it. After all, he wasn't even alive in 1962.
"It's a part of history," Benjamin said of Hairspray's storyline, where African-American kids can only dance on the Corny Collins Show once a month. "But, ours is a funny show with lots of singing and dancing...I like that."
Benjamin plays Duane, one of the students in detention. He shows some moves to lead character Tracy Turnblad, who hates the once-a-month rule.
Hale would not reveal this local show's unique spin, only saying that it has one.
"We add lots of sugar and spice," he laughed, breaking into his huge braces-decorated smile, "and there's a whole lot of hugging going on."
Hairspray! is a popular musical for teens as there can be a large ensemble and the story hooks people of all ages. For the ActingOut producction, there is a cast of 86 and 20 actors are from Andover.
In the production, Tracy is obsessed with the Corny Collins Show on TV. Every day after school, she and her best friend, Penny, run home to watch the show and drool over the attractive host. But Tracy's mother, Edna, just shakes her head wondering what the big deal is. (Hollywood actor John Travolta played Edna in the movie version of Hairspray.)
Replace the TV show with a You Tube video, and it's a story that even today's teens can appreciate.
Acting Out! always includes adults and their children in their shows and Joe's mother, Mignon Hale, is in the ensemble.
In true 15-year-old fashion, he rolls his eyes when talking about it.
"I put in my earplugs when she's singing her songs around the house," he said.
But when she started bringing snacks to rehearsals, he eased up on the complaints.
Mignon Hale's new job relocated the family from Atlanta, Ga. to Andover last year. Both agreed the transition was tough for Joe.
"I have 10 brothers and sisters, 33 nieces and nephews, so we left a lot of family," Mignon said. "It was hard for Joe...There's no one up here."
"No friends, I didn't know anyone. It was real hard," Joe said.
However, Joe had a plan. He liked performing, so he got involved with productions at AHS. He was in "Fiddler on the Roof" last fall and joined the school's Show Choir. He said he's become impressed with his new school's Collins Center for the Performing Arts and AHS drama director Susan Choquette.
He did a summer program with the Children's Studio for the Arts where director Ellie Seavey connected him with the Acting Out! community theater group.
Accessorized with his hot pink "Shufflin' Every Day" wrist band, as he loves to shuffle, he said transition trouble is now behind him.
"I'm on a path to perform," said Joe, who also runs track and likes to write poetry. "It's great here."
He's spraying this Hairspray production with rave reviews, saying the teen actors motivate each other.
"It's just a great group and we are so ready for the show. People should come," he said.
When: Friday, Feb. 10, 7 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 11, 1:30 and 7 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 12, 3 p.m.
Where: Merrimack College Roger's Center for the Arts
Cost: Reserved seats $20, General admission $15, $18 at the door
More info: 978-208-9132, actingouttheater.com