Niki Metcalf is an actress with many wonderful characters in her future, but she’ll be the first one to tell you that the opportunity to play Tracy Turnblad is very special.
“I’m looking forward to doing so many other things in the future, but this is definitely the role of a lifetime,” said Metcalf, a Saugerties native who is playing the lead character in the national touring production of “Hairspray,” coming to Proctors for eight shows over six days Tuesday through next Sunday. “To be able to tell this story across the country is something I’ll always be grateful for. Playing this role in this show is what I’ve dreamed about since I saw the musical on Broadway when I was a young girl.”
Doing “Hairspray” at Proctors in Schenectady, about an hour away from Saugerties down in the Hudson Valley, is also very special for Metcalf.
“I’m calling this my homecoming because Proctors is the theater where I saw so many national touring shows when I was a kid,” she said. “To bring this show to Proctors is so special. It’s a pinch me moment.”
Based on the 1988 John Waters’ film, “Hairspray,” the musical follows the trials and tribulations of Tracy Turnblad, a young teenage girl growing up in Baltimore in 1962. Tracy’s dream is to dance on “The Corny Collins Show,”a local television program aimed at teenagers, and once she does that she then aspires to bring social change to the show, in particular integration.
It was in 2002 that Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman added music and lyrics to the film and turned it into a huge theatrical success on Broadway, winning eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan wrote the book, making a handful of significant changes to Waters’ original film script. Then in 2007, Hollywood adapted the 2002 musical into a film — with some more script changes — with Nikki Blonski as Tracy and John Travolta as her mother, Edna. It didn’t claim any Oscar nominations but was still generally well-reviewed by most critics and again a huge financial success at the box office.
“I remember watching the musical remake at my aunt’s house and loving that version,” said Metcalf. “The Waters’ movie was a more darker version, and that really pulled me into the story, too, but I think it was the musical that really inspired me to do musical theater in the first place.”
There’s plenty of great musical numbers to listen to in “Hairspray,” and Metcalf gets to sing many of them in the show.
“I think my favorite song changes every night,” she said. “But ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ is a great song. It was the first song I ever did at an audition, so it has some special meaning to me. But I love ‘I Can Hear the Bells’ and ‘Without Love.’ I’m so lucky to be able to sing that wonderful music.”
This current touring production of “Hairspray” began in October of 2021 and continues until June of 2023.
“We’ve been at it a bit more than a year now and I’m all set until next June,” said Metcalf. “We do get a break for the holidays, so it will be fun to just get in a car and drive home. But then it’s back on the road, and it has been an amazing experience. It’s a great score and so much fun to perform. I’m not worried about what’s coming after June. It seems so far away. I am just loving this experience and enjoying the moment. I feel so lucky to be able to do what I love doing. I love the performing part and I love all the traveling.”
While Metcalf has seen a number of shows at Proctors, she’s never performed there. She has, however, been on a Capital Region stage in the past. In 2013, while still in high school, she was in a Sand Lake Center for the Arts production of “The Secret Garden” in Averill Park. One local reviewer singled her out for praise, describing her character of Martha as “charmingly impish.”
“Everyone was so wonderful from that show, and I’m still in touch with some people I met there at the Sand Lake Center for Arts,” said Metcalf. “I loved ‘The Secret Garden,’ and it reminds me of what a wonderful, supportive community that I grew up in. So many people helped me get to where I am today, and many may be in the Proctors audience and that gets me excited. I hope I make them proud.”
A 2018 graduate of Montclair State University in New Jersey with a major in musical theater and a minor in American Sign Language, Metcalf did manage to make it to the backstage area at Proctors.
“I had a friend from college who was in the production of ‘Wicked’ there and she took me backstage after the show,” remembered Metcalf. “That was a lot of fun, but to actually be performing on stage there is going to be awesome. It’ll be a surreal moment for me.”
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: Tuesday, Dec. 6 through Sunday, Dec. 11; performance times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $90.50-$26.50
MORE INFO: Call (518) 346-6204 or visit www.proctors.org