ROCK ISLAND — It is slightly north of 8 a.m. on a crisp and cloudy fall morning. Cars are buzzing about the Alleman Catholic High School parking lot.
Nestled behind the wheel of his 2005 Honda CRV, senior Ben Meenan is belting the tune of the day, singing as if he will never sing again, oblivious to all who are watching.
“Singing is one of the greatest add-ons God has given me,’’ said Meenan, one of the leads in the school’s upcoming production of “Hairspray the Musical.’’
A tribute to John Waters’ offbeat-yet-beloved 1988 film about teenager Tracy Turnblad becoming an unlikely civil-rights champion, “Hairspray” will take center stage at Alleman’s Dr. Tracy Spaeth Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, through Saturday, Nov. 10, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11.
Tickets are available at the door or online at allemanhighschool.org. Prices are $7, $6 for senior citizens, $5 for students, and free for children 5 and younger.
Outgoing and upbeat, Meenan plays Lincoln “Link” Larkin, a teenage heartthrob and the boyfriend of Turnblad (senior Vanessa Reger) in the production, his fourth as an Alleman student.
“Acting as a career is the ultimate goal,’’ said Meenan, an Indiana native who transferred to Alleman as a freshman. He is also an honor student who played football and wrestles for the Pioneers.
“I know that’s a long shot, the acting thing, but it’s OK to dream,’’ Meenan added. “Maybe a career in broadcasting if that doesn’t work. What I do know for certain is I have a great time performing, and I’m lucky to get the chance to do something I love with a bunch of really great people. As for always singing, I’m not bothered the least bit by anyone who sees me on the way to school and laughs. It’s who I am; I love to sing.’’
Thanks to a 2007 movie of the Tony Award-winning musical that starred John Travolta and a live NBC production in 2016, “Hairspray” remains wildly popular.
Staging a production of this kind — with a cast of more than 50 — is no small undertaking.
“What an amazing group of young people we have,’’ said Linda McGraw, the show’s choreographer and longtime theater and dance-team lead at Alleman. If it has been presented on stage at Alleman, McGraw’s guiding and encouraging leadership has helped to see it through.
Harold Truitt is directing the show, assisted by Leslie Zeglin. Set design is under the instruction of Mike and Samuel Maynard. The show’s music is being directed by Amy Trimble and Mason Moss. Daniel and Michael DeJaegher are assisting.
“Everyone is taken with the way these kids have been so diligent in their preparation and their care for each other,’’ McGraw said. “There is a great deal of respect for the show and an even greater respect for each other. ... The show is filled with a talented cast, fun, laughter, and fabulous toe-tapping songs and dance numbers. It is a must-see.’’
Set in Baltimore in 1962, “Hairspray” tells the story of Turnblad and her best friend, Penny Pingleton, auditioning for “The Corny Collins Show,” a popular teenage dance show based on the real-life “Buddy Deane Show,” which aired in Baltimore in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.
An interviewed Penny bumbles and stumbles over her answers, and another girl, Nadine, is cut because she is black (the show has a “Negro Day” on the last Thursday of every month, she is told). This opens the door for Tracy to become a regular on the show and launches her on a roller-coaster ride of gained popularity and a variety of 1960s social issues.
Sophomore Ian Snider plays Collins with an engaging energy and a wry smile.
“I have been fortunate to have had roles in ‘Shrek,’ ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘Grease,’ last year,’’ said Snider, a three-sport standout and honor student at Alleman. “And to have a role of significance in this production is special in many ways. I’m so fortunate to be a part of this.’’
The performing bug caught Snider at a young age, and he has attended drama camp at Alleman as far back as the third grade. He understands the many ups and downs it takes until a production comes together. He, like all involved, said they will be ready for opening night.
“It’s funny and it’s unique how it all fits,’’ Snider said. “It’s in stages. You are at this point when you first get started, then other points along the way. In the last week when things come together, it really is special time. You get to the dress rehearsal stage, and you know opening night is right there. It’s a great feeling. I love performing in front of people. There is something fulfilling about it.’’
When Reger, an honor student, heard that McGraw called her a “natural’’ and a “perfect Turnblad,’’ the senior paused and reflected.
“I am very passionate about social justice,’’ Reger said, having a grasp of the racial issues the movie addresses. “I think everyone involved understands, whether they are affected by it or not. Though we all have struggles, we live in a more accepting society today, but it wasn’t always the case in the 1960s. It’s added a unique perspective to making this production come to life.’’
For Reger, a gifted songstress and a high-octane performer, there’s not much better than being on stage. But finding time to juggle the rigors of faith, family, school and “Hairspray” hasn’t been easy.
“It’s perfect for my personality,’’ she said of the show. “And there so many great people involved.
“One of the challenges with anything outside school is making time for it. You have to juggle and manage your time, but the rewards are certainly worth it. I am so looking forward to making this come to life.’’