Portola teen rises to new heights in ‘Hairspray’
When 18-year-old Jennifer Wright steps on stage, her biggest fan will be in the audience.
“My mom is always saying, ‘You’re going to do this. You’re going to do well,’” Wright said.
“This” is the lead role in “Hairspray,” the Feather River College production that runs May 9 – 13 at the Town Hall Theatre in Quincy.
The Portola High School senior sang and danced her way into the coveted part of Tracy Turnblad.
“This is the first time we have had such a huge spectrum of performers,” said the musical’s director, Terry Gallagher. “It’s really been great to have actors from across the county.”
In addition to Wright, there are five other actors from Portola, two from Chester, two from Indian Valley and the rest from the Quincy area.
“Hairspray,” the musical, is set in Baltimore, Md., in 1962 and follows the efforts of plump teenager Tracy Turnblad to dance on the Corny Collins Show.
Tryouts took place in January, with six individuals auditioning for the role of Tracy. Wright and three others received a call back and were told they would be notified later that night by email.
Wright couldn’t access her mail, but received a 2 a.m. phone call from a friend telling her that she landed the lead.
“I started crying and went and woke my mom up,” Wright said, during an interview last week. “My mom said she was really proud of me and knew that I could do it.”
Landing the role is a dream come true for Wright, who grew up watching “Grease,” “Dirty Dancing,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Hairspray” over and over.
“I watched them so many times, I memorized all of the lines,” she said.
But when it comes to performing in front of others, Wright is a relative newcomer. She has sung with the Portola High School show choir for two years and has acted in three drama class productions at the high school.
When asked if she has any butterflies yet, Wright just smiles and says, “No, I’m just having fun.”
She said that people have advised her to “just be myself” and “to be calm.”
It’s easy for her to be calm when she is singing, but she admits to having a few qualms when she is dancing the “Mashed Potato.”
“She’s a great dancer,” Gallagher said. “Gary (Klivans, drama and music teacher at PHS) has that show choir and these kids can sing and dance — they are dauntless.”
Wright has had ample time to learn the dances as the cast has been rehearsing three nights a week for the past couple of months. Rehearsals ramped up last week.
“Musicals are unbelievable,” Gallagher said. “They are the triple threat — singing, acting, dancing — they take more rehearsal.”
She said that the local actors have been up to the challenge. “I am always amazed at the talent that we have here,” Gallagher said. “Jennifer has been great. She has been working so hard, but I think having fun, too.”
Wright said she is having a great time with the best part being “becoming a family with my cast members, being so comfortable around them.”
The cast includes students from Quincy and Portola high schools, as well as Feather River College, and several adults, including Salvatore “Sam” Catalano, of Taylorsville, and Dr. Jeff Kepple, from Quincy.
If Wright has her way, she too will be acting into adulthood. After she graduates from Portola High School, she plans to attend Feather River College for two years and then transfer to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles.
“Ever since I was little I have been obsessed with movies and acting,” Wright said. “I am a drama nerd.”