Actor is antithesis of bully she plays in Chanhassen’s ‘Hairspray’

| Susan Klemond | March 28, 2012 | 0 Comments

In “Hairspray” at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, Velma Von Tussle, left, adjusts the tiara for her daughter, Amber Von Tussle, portrayed by Nicole Chapman. Courtesy Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

When she tucks her long, dark hair under a blonde bouffant wig, Nicole Renee Chapman is just beginning her transformation for a performance of the musical “Hairspray” at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.

Assuming a different appearance has helped the actor play a character whose thinking and actions are also very different from her own — those of a bully.

“It’s a really big change but now it turns out that since I am playing such a mean character it’s kind of nice to not look like myself while I’m doing it,” said Chapman, who’s performed since August in the production, now extended until May 26. “It helps me to get into character and to tap into this way of thinking that’s so different from my own.”

Even though her own experiences with bullying are unlike her character’s, Chapman said playing the role of Amber has been stimulating, especially because the character’s cruelty helps convey the play’s positive messages of tolerance and racial equality.

In the fast-paced, campy and colorful play, set in Baltimore in 1962, Chapman plays a high school sophomore who stars on a teen TV dance show. When another teen, Tracy, auditions for the show, Amber’s mother, a producer, rejects her because of her weight along with another girl because she is black.

A winning style

Tracy, nonetheless, gets the attention of the show’s host who invites her on the program. Spurred on by her mother and jealousy, Amber mercilessly teases Tracy who organizes a protest to convince the station to allow blacks on regularly. Most of the protesters are arrested, but Tracy’s prison time is unfairly extended. She eventually arrives at the show with a racially mixed group of friends and succeeds in integrating the production and defeats Amber in a dance competition.

Bullying “is a hot topic in our society today and is something that Nicole can speak to directly,” said Kris Howland, the Chanhassen’s public relations director. “Nicole is the absolute antithesis of the character she plays — which is a huge challenge for her to play. But she is awesome in the show.”

A graduate of Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights, Chapman said she’s experienced bullying, though not in an extreme way. She felt the effect when she made a decision to not drink alcohol while studying at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind.

“I always think I know that what I’m doing is pleasing God, even if it’s going to feel lonely sometimes or even if I’m going to be left out because of it or not treated the same way as everyone else,” she said.

Holding on to values

Chapman understands the importance of standing up for beliefs, even when it’s unpopular. “Hairspray” makes that point, she said, although it’s not a Christian production.

“I think the show encourages you to hold on to your convictions and your values,” she said.

Children who have attended the show react to the bullying and are drawn to Tracy’s good example, Chapman said.

“A show like this is good to see for kids who are being bullied to see how to deal with it in a positive way . . . and for kids who — if they ever do feel tempted to bully in any way because of what their peers are doing or what they’ve seen in movies — don’t think it’s a big deal to treat another kid or a classmate in a demeaning way,” Chapman said.

Although Amber is unkind, in the end, she does have a change of heart, Chapman said. “The show is a great conversation starter because it does bring up all these issues and it has a good message in the end,” she added.

“Hairspray” is suitable for audiences of all ages, though it contains mild, mature language and situations.

Through April, those who purchase one adult dinner and show ticket for “Hairspray” can get one children’s ticket (ages 5-17) free. Call Chanhassen Dinner Theatres at (952) 934-1525 for reservations.

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Category: Arts and Culture