By Lars Trodson
---- — “Hairspray,” the buoyant musical based on Roger Waters’ 1988 film of the same name, doesn’t take itself seriously for one joyous second, though it contains serious social messages about racial tolerance and inclusion.
The show earned Tony Awards on Broadway and accolades all over the world. It has terrific roles for adults and young people alike. And that’s one of the reasons why it has become a favorite production at high schools all across the country.
A most recent production by the Acting Out Theater Company in Lawrence that was performed at Merrimack College earned one young Lawrence resident some high marks.
Kat Marinelli, a 17-year old senior at Central Catholic High School, played the role of Penny Pingleton, the best friend of lead character Tracy Turnblad. Both Tracy and Penny are social outcasts.
Penny is a juicy role and Kat played it with such finesse she earned a Best Youth Actress award from the Eastern Massachusetts Association of Community Theaters recently.
It’s a pretty good start for a young woman who plans on making the theater her life.
“Over one hundred different community theaters are nominated for different things,” said Kat of the EMACT Awards.
The event is very formal and Kat said she did not expect to win for a role she originally did not expect to get. She described Penny as “kooky.” and a much larger part in the theater version than one may remember from the original film.
The 1988 original was a straight comedy-drama with music. It takes place in the city of Baltimore in 1962 and tells the story of Tracy’s dream to dance on the local TV hit, the Corny Collins Show.
Tracy is an outcast because she’s overweight; very different from , Amber von Tussle, the reigning queen of the Corny Collins Show. The TV hit is sort of a local American Bandstand, and also segregated except for one episode a month.
Tracy and Penny audition and Tracy’s dance talent lands her a coveted spot. A series of incidents leads the cast into picketing over civil rights, jail and ultimately reconciliation, integration and redemption.
The film was adapted into a Broadway musical in 2002 (with songs by Marc Shaiman of Disney fame, and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman) and later into a 2007 film version starring John Travolta as Tracy’s mother, Edna Turnblad, and original Broadway star Marissa Jaret Winokur as Tracy.
“‘Hairpspray was my first really big production, although I’ve been doing theater a long time,” Kat said. “Penny is very different from most roles. She’s funny and kooky and she’s a spaz and she talks in a dorky sounding voice.”
Kat said she only found out about the audition a couple of days before it was held, “so I wasn’t really prepared. I didn’t think I was going to get it, but then I did.”
It is a funny part, and audiences laughed along with Kat’s portrayal. Her father, Paul (who had a cameo in the production), said he was thrilled for his daughter.
“It’s really fantastic. She worked so hard on that role. You want to create opportunities for your kids and you take them to auditions and you start them on guitar and then all of a sudden they take off and flower,” he said.
“It’s really heartwarming,” he said of his daughter winning the Best Youth Actress award, “We’re ecstatic here. We were just shocked.”
Kat is not only interested in theater, but she’s also a singer-songwriter with a couple of original songs already up on iTunes. She also has her own website, www.katmarinelli.com.
“My songs are basically about relationships with other people, about truly listening to other people and building connections,” she said.
“Dear Father” is an adult-contemporary tune that concerns a difficult experience a friend of hers is going through. “Listen” is pop-rock.
Kat envisions attending a theater-based college, such as Emerson or New York University, knowing full well the competition to get into her preferred program is fierce. Admission not only is based on academics but also performance ability.
“It’s a pretty hefty load,” she said. “It’s very, very, very competitive.”
Kat Marinelli is off to a rousing start, indeed.