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'Hairspray' keeps ringing true

With many lead actors out of Tigard and Beaverton, Portland Community College Sylvania prepares for 'Hairspray'

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Former Beaverton student Evan Tait, plays Link in the upcoming PCC musical, 'Hairspray.'Evan Tait never thought he'd play a love interest. He'd been pigeonholed as the “best friend type,” an actor destined to be cast in roles that were supportive, not leading. So when he found out that he'd been cast as Link in “Hairspray,” all he could do at first was sob.

“It's funny when opportunity knocks,” the 20-year-old Beaverton resident said. “Link is one of my dream roles, because I watched him growing up, and I was like, 'I want to do this role, and I'm never going to be able to do this role.' It's a dream coming true.”

With Portland Community College's Sylvania Campus's production of “Hairspray,” Tait's dreams aren't the only ones coming true. Combining the talents of about 100 people on stage and behind the scenes, it's the first musical the school has produced in over six years, and the result of countless hours of hard work. For co-directors and faculty members Julianne Johnson-Weiss and Dan Hays, the hope is that this large-scale production will strengthen the relationship between the various art disciplines at the school and excite more students about the programs there.

“I kept looking at everybody going, 'We need to do a musical. We need to do a musical,'” said Johnson-Weiss, Director of Vocal Music at PCC Sylvania. “When the economy tanked, we'd gotten a whole bunch of people in the arts, and then things started changing back and they drifted away.”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Marcos Tunes of Tigard plays Edna Turnbladd in the upcoming PCC musical, 'Hairspray.'

Johnson-Weiss was losing musical theater students in part because they simply couldn't offer them what they needed. She began teaching a musical theater vocal class two years ago, but it still wasn't the necessary push. A musical was what she needed, and she needed Hays to help her.

Friends since growing up in Portland together in the 1970s and '80s, the pair starred together in productions during high school and at the University of Portland. They took their careers different directions for a time, but ultimately, both landed in education, Hays on the technical theater side, Johnson-Weiss with vocals. Though “Hairspray” is their first time directing together, their goals with the production are the same.

“Number one is to get more students involved in our programs, and to see our programs as one entity — the performing arts — rather than music is here, dance is here, theater is here,” said Hays. Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Evan Tait, left, playing Link and Annie Rose Latchford, of Tigard, playing Penny, dance during rehearsal of the upcoming PCC musical, 'Hairspray.'

“And we needed to address the fact that we were losing those who were triple threats: singers, dancers, actors,” said Johnson-Weiss, a Beaverton resident. “You have to cultivate that, too. You can't just have them pop up out of nowhere.”

But deciding to put on a musical came with one large, looming question — what musical would they do?

Several options were brought to the table, but were vetoed for various reasons. When “Hairspray” was the last musical standing, there was talk that it might not be edgy enough, that it was too “popcorn,” but Johnson-Weiss was quick to quell those fears.

“Look at the time period right now,” she said. “We're all talking about inclusivity. We're all talking about racial tensions. We're all talking about accepting each other. That's what the show's themes are.”

And yet, the show's themes haven't been limited to the stage. They've extended to every aspect of the production and have been the cornerstones of the students' character and personal development.

“It's a lot easier to get into character when you're around people that you trust and accept you, because then you're not afraid to go out of your boundaries, and you're not afraid to get a little more outlandish,” said Tigard resident Annie Rose Latchford, who's playing Penny. “Everybody kind of puts themselves out there, even when we're not rehearsing.”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Chie Tanaka of Beaverton plays Little Inez in the upcoming PCC musical, 'Hairspray.'

This inclusive feel, or “safe space” as many of the students referred to it, has allowed them to elevate their craft. Fostering this environment was another goal of the directors, and they worked with Beaverton resident and stage manager Danielle Bash to get there.

“Sometimes, when situations got a little crazy, Julianne was really great working with me and saying 'We're going to breathe. We're going to work on this,'” Bash, 30, said. “It wasn't until this weekend that we saw things piece together. Everything just came alive. There are certain parts, even now, certain moments and scenes where I'll just start getting teary-eyed. It's such a beautiful, beautiful show.”

This sentiment was shared by numerous other students in the production. Their love for the people they've gotten to work with and the musical's message came up again and again as the best part of this process, a process which has taken up so many of their days and nights. When asked how they've managed to balance this show with classes, jobs and friends, awkward laughter ensued — “Hairspray” has been their lives for the past few months — there hasn't been room for much else. But no one seemed upset about it.Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Craig Umhoefer plays Corny Collins in the upcoming PCC musical, 'Hairspray.'

“What I really like about the show is getting to meet and work with all these wonderful people,” said Tigard resident Dominic Mallari, 21, who plays IQ. “Being a part of this musical has allowed me to make a lot of new friends and wonderful memories.”

Chie Tanaka, a 19-year-old Beaverton resident who plays Little Inez in the show, agreed.

“I feel like we're such an accepting cast,” she said. “I feel comfortable doing whatever. Even if I mess up, I'm not embarrassed or anything, because we're all learning here.”

Before the first dress rehearsal on Monday night, the cast stood on stage with Johnson-Weiss, humming and holding hands. The energy was palpable, and they weren't even performing for an audience.

“You're going to do a great job,” Johnson-Weiss told them. “I appreciate you, and I know that you can hit the next level.”

It seemed effortless as the actors became their characters. But somehow, you could also sense that they'd put pieces of themselves into it, too, that they weren't removed from the situation — they were in it.

“If this was anywhere else, I would probably be scared out of my wits and have quit by January,” said Tait, the actor who never thought he could play a character such as Link. “This is such a safe environment that we're able to explore and we're able to not just make the characters our own, but make the characters who we are.” Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Samarah Tariku of Tigard plays Shayna in the upcoming PCC musical, 'Hairspray.'

See the show


Set in the 1960s, the musical "Hairspray" explores themes of acceptance and inclusion through topics ranging from race to body type to clothes.


Portland Community College Theater


March 6-7 at 7 p.m.

March 12 at 11 a.m.

March 13-14 at 7 p.m.

March 15 at 2 p.m.


PCC Sylvania Performing Arts Center; 12000 S.W. 49th Ave., Portland


$10; available at the door or at the PCC Sylvania Bookstore, or can be reserved at 971-722-4323


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