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Arts Club nets TC talent for Hairspray

Two Tri-City high school grads will play the roles of best friends to lead characters in the Arts Club Theatre Company's production of Hairspray , which opens on Thursday.

Two Tri-City high school grads will play the roles of best friends to lead characters in the Arts Club Theatre Company's production of Hairspray, which opens on Thursday.

Riverside secondary's Robyn Wallis will portray perky Penny Pingleton, the bubble gum-chewing confidant to the voluptuous Tracy Turnblad, while Darren Burkett, a Dr. Charles Best secondary alumni, is friendly Fender, a companion to the hunky Link Larkin.

Winning the part of Penny - who was played by Amanda Bynes in the 2007 film starring John Travolta - was "really exciting because it's one of my favourite Broadway roles," said Wallis, 21, whose mother, Valerie Easton, a Port Coquitlam resident, is the show's choreographer. "I love to play funny characters that have a lot to them, and she's a lot of fun to play."

Her character is also key to the narrative, which highlights racial segregation in Baltimore in the 1960s.

Penny falls for a boy of African-American descent, which in the Arts Club production is played by J. Cameron Barnett who recently relocated from New York.

"It's really ground-breaking what she does," Wallis said of Penny, "because you just didn't do that back then."

A graduate of the Grant MacEwan Theatre Arts program in Alberta, Wallis was in town when Arts Club Theatre called for auditions last summer. Previously, she had performed in Alberta Opera's Hansel and Gretel and Teatro La Quindicina's Everybody Goes to Mitzi's.

Still,Hairspray "is my biggest show yet and I plan to stick around Vancouver afterwards to do some more acting," she said.

Burkett was also thrilled to be cast "in a show that's been on my to-do list for quite a few years now," the 23-year-old Coquitlam native said.

But performing in the fast-paced musical eight times a week - for two months - is a toll on the body and mind.

To combat fatigue and to keep his energy levels up, "you have to live really well.... You also pull a lot of your energy from the audience because what you give them, they give right back."

Burkett is no stranger to the Arts Club Theatre, having appeared in its White Christmas,Disney's Beauty and the Beast, The Producers and Gypsy.

As well, he has also been seen in shows forCarousel Theatre, Chemainus Theatre Festival, Theatre Under the Stars, Royal City Musical Theatre, URP and Footlight.

Currently a teacher at Coquitlam's C.A.P.A. dance studio and a choreographer with Terry Fox secondary in PoCo, which recently wrapped up Jesus Christ Superstar under director Dan Tilsley, Burkett said he plans to teach for a career and he especially loves returning for high school productions.

"It's nice for me to go back and help these kids along and make their dream a little bit easier."

Hairspray runs at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (2750 Granville St., Vancouver) from May 12 to July 10. For tickets, call 604-687-1644 or visit the Arts Club website at

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