Playing the lead role as Tracy Turnblad in "Hairspray" for Walla Walla Community College Foundation's 30th annual summer musical might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Jana Townsend.
"I was ecstatic," Townsend said. "I was very excited, just because Tracy Turnblad is a really inspirational character."
Even more, she is getting the chance to play a character who faces the same discrimination that Townsend faces in real life.
"It's a fact that you know you are always type cast in a show, and most lead characters are thin. And with the role of Tracy ... every girl that was overweight was excited to get this role," Townsend said, recalling what it was like to be one of the many plus-size women trying out for what is probably the only leading role they will see for years to come in community theater that calls for an overweight woman.
In the show "Hairspray," Tracy Turnblad is trying to get on the Corny Collins (teen dance) Show, but is denied the chance to even try out, because she is overweight.
Her persistence and dance skills pay off, and Turnblad wins the right to be part of the show.
Then the inspirational and lovable character takes on another injustice when the producers of the show refuse to allow black couples to dance with white teens on the set.
"It's just that in the show she doesn't really care what everybody thinks of her, and especially in the 1960s, even more so in that time period, people were more judgmental. And Tracy just embraces everybody," Townsend said.
Like in the original 1988 John Waters movie, as well as the remake and numerous theater productions that would follow, Tracy's mother, Edna Turnblad, is played by a man.
In this case it is a local veteran actor who has also seen his share of adversity on the stage.
"I like the message behind it, that everybody is not the same and everybody has the right to live their life the way they want to, that our differences should be celebrated. And that is really what the show does -- it celebrates diversities," said Robert G. Randall, who plays Edna Turnblad.
The 25-year veteran actor and director who recently played Tito in the local production of "Lend Me A Tenor" and the Mad Hatter in "Alice in Wonderland" understands all too well that heavy persons rarely get the leading role.
Because of his size, Randall explained that his acting career has centered around being a character actor, which is often the comic relief or sidekick to the lead.
As a director, Randall also noted that sometimes there is just no way around the typecasting.
"Obviously if the text says she has to be a beautiful, sexy, slave-type of character, then you have to look that character. I am a little less focused on the physical character unless their part really calls for it," Randall said.
Then he added that he looks at talents first and physique last.
Even "Hairspray" calls for several thin parts, which are integral to playing one of the Nicest Kids in Town; they are regular dancers on the Corny Collins Show who look perfect and dance perfect but who are far from perfect and are all thin, white and blonde, Randall said.
As for the plus-size roles, there weren't too many available, which was a problem for director Jessica Barkl.
"I didn't want to have all these great girls that wanted to do a musical all their life, and this is their one opportunity to do so, and I will have to pick one and kick the rest out," Barkl said.
So Barkl took a little poetic license and created the Dynamites, which are something like the Greek muses in Disney's musical "Hercules."
To help get more muses on stage, Barkl created four groups: three Mexican-American women, three black women, three plus sized women and three men playing women.
"I wanted people to be aware that these are people on stage that don't normally get to be put on stage in Walla Walla," Barkl said.
Of course, being centered around a dance show, another requirement is that the lead has to be a good dancer.
A 2004 Walla Walla High School graduate, Townsend said she danced a lot when she was younger and took about 10 years of lessons.
"When rehearsal started, I lost an additional 20 pounds. And they said 'you've got to stop losing weight' ... because my costumes were getting really big on me," Townsend said.
"Hairspray" is also a musical light on scripted lines and heavy on music, which means the lead has to be able to sing.
"She's amazing. Vocally, she has a very powerful and beautiful voice ... she is fabulous. She is Tracy.," Randall said.
It helped that classical voice was Townsend's forte at Eastern Washington University, where she graduated with a major in music.
And she still loves to sing.
"It's such a great show. It's full of laughter and tears. It is a neat show. It's full of everything ... There is just so much emotion," Townsend said.
There are also serious issues to deal with, but don't be dismayed. "Hairspray" is an extremely funny and lively musical with a great heroine who fights for great causes.
"What is beautiful about this play and what is right about it and what the production team and everybody did right is that they don't hit you over the head with it," Barkl said.
The money raised from "Hairspray" also goes to the Walla Walla Community College Foundation Scholarship Fund.
"Hairspray" runs July 7-23.