Incoming freshmen to star in Akron’s “Hairspray”

Meghan Caprez

Several weeks before rehearsals started for the Akron All-City Musical’s inaugural production of “Hairspray,” Copley High School senior Jonathan Gruich scrolled through YouTube, watching videos of Elvis Presley. He was preparing for the role of Link Larkin, the show’s male lead.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Hoban High School senior Kaitlyn Mann was learning lyrics to songs such as “Nicest Kids In Town,” getting ready to make her community theater debut as a council member in the production.

Now, after a month of grueling four-hour rehearsals, six days a week, Gruich and Mann will perform in their final play before entering Kent State as freshmen exploratory majors.

“Hairspray,” based on the 1988 John Waters film, tells the story of a big-boned ingénue who seeks to dispel segregation on a televised dance show in 1962 Baltimore. She finds romance in the show’s co-star, Link Larkin.

“I love the show,” Gruich said. “‘Hairspray’ is so much fun. Just the fact that it was All-City and I could meet a bunch of artists around the area, too, is really cool.”

“Hairspray,” presented in part by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and PNC Bank, will take place at the Akron Civic Theatre June 15 and 16. Director Mark Zimmerman, music director Barbara Bellamy and choreographer Rachel Galambos are the ones bringing the 2002 Broadway musical to the Akron stage.

Both Gruich and Mann had been involved in musicals before “Hairspray,” but neither had experience in a dance-intensive show. Galambos said their progress in dancing impressed her, though.

“They’re working really hard,” Galambos said. “I’m really proud of my kids. I give them a lot of stuff that’s not easy.”

“This is a lot more serious and more advanced than what I’d done at Hoban, because that’s such a small school,” Mann said. “I’m learning a lot more with this show than I have with shows in the past.”

Gruich agrees with Mann and said each production he’s done teaches him a new lesson about performing. Both Gruich and Mann said this knowledge will be useful their first semester at Kent, as they plan to audition for the musical theatre program in the fall.

“Kent is lucky to have them,” Galambos said. “There’s a huge range of experience with these kids. Those two clearly have more experience than others. They are constantly helping the rest of the cast with guidance, support and encouragement. They’re awesome.”

Both Gruich and Mann plan to perform in plays at Kent State, whether or not they decide to major in musical theatre.

“I want to get used to the environment of college, but I also do want to jump right into theater so I can be involved and get my name out there,” Mann said.

Kaitlyn Harris, a Copley High School junior and council member in “Hairspray,” has worked with Gruich in several productions. She said casting him for Link could not have been more perfect.

“[Gruich is] amazing,” Harris said. “He literally is the part.”

Gruich laughed when comparing himself to his character.

“He’s very energetic and a fun-loving guy, and that’s who I am,” he said. “It’s kind of been easy to flip into him.”

Mann, too, is like her peppy council member character named April, Harris said.

“It’s always fun to work with her,” Harris said. “Since the beginning, she’s always been happy and talks a lot.”

Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. show on June 15 and 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. shows on June 16 are available at the Civic box office, online at, or by calling 330-253-2488. Ticket prices are $10, $20 and $25.

Contact Meghan Caprez at [email protected].