Fine Arts Students Stage hit Broadway Show ‘Hairspray’

When it comes to summer musicals and the talented fine-arts students in the El Paso Independent School District, you just can’t stop the beat.

At least not in this year’s production of “Hairspray,” the campy Broadway about love and the end of segregation in 1960’s Baltimore being staged at the historic El Paso High School Theater July 18-21.

The production is part of EPISD’s long-standing summer musical program that in years past has staged hits like South Pacific, May Fair Lady and Annie Get Your Gun. The shows combine the talent of students involved in all areas of the arts.

“The musical is guaranteed to be amazing fun, and you will leave the musical wanting to do those dance steps and sing the songs,” said EPISD Fine Arts Director Phillip Barraza, who choreographed the dance numbers.

The summer musical gives EPISD students and teachers a platform to collaborate in the various disciplines of fine arts from tech and set design to acting, band, orchestra, choir, dance and theater.

“The summer musical, this one in particular, allows students to express their passion while at the same time sending a message,” Barraza said. “The message is left up to the audience interpretation of course, but the bottom line is that it’s all about integration. It’s about accepting who you are, and accepting who you want to be.”

Hairspray is set in 1962 Baltimore and revolves around heavy-set teen Tracy Turnblad, a lover of music who loves to dance and wishes to earn a spot on a famous American Bandstand-like television dance show.

After she earns a spot, she falls in love with the lead dancer Link Larkin and becomes an overnight sensation, all the while pushing for the racial integration of the dance show that until then had not allowed black teens to dance on air.

“This is my first time (in a musical). I’ve never done anything like this,” said Esmeralda Hernandez, who plays Tracy. “I’m working hard to show the character and who she is.”

The 2018 Franklin High graduate also sees the summer musical as an opportunity to meet new friends and interact with other EPISD high-school fine arts students.

“Here it’s not a competition,” she said. “We do this as a group – as a family.”

Recent Coronado High grad Fernando Romero, who plays male lead Link Larkin, looks forward to the summer musical every year. “Hairspray” marks the veteran high school actor’s fourth appearance in a summer production. It’s an experience he plans to build on while studying theater at the University of Texas at El Paso this fall.

“This is an incredible learning experience because we have different directors from different schools throughout EPISD,” Romero said. “It’s such a pleasure to be working with each and every one of them. Each one of them has his or her own different type of experience in the arts and for us to all be here together, all from EPISD, is absolutely incredible.”

Romero also likes playing the male lead in the last summer musical of his high school career.

“Link Larkin is a stereotypical lady’s man,” he said. “He’s surrounded by all the girls. He’s the main attention on the (dance) show, and then here comes this girl Tracy who changes his life completely.”

Romero added: “He begins to see everything differently and it changes the whole perspective of the show and everybody around him. He definitely has a cool, slick jam.”

Story by Reneé de Santos | Photos by Leonel Monroy – EPISD