NEW YORK — A lot of stars have tried their hands at Broadway, from Diddy in “A Raisin in the Sun” to Joey Fatone in “Rent” to Usher, who will be in “Chicago” next month. But the latest to make her debut is Haylie Duff, who’s now playing Amber Von Tussle in “Hairspray.” And we were with her every step of the way …
21 days until opening night: Haylie’s moved to New York and is excited to find that the stage door to the Neil Simon Theatre is within walking distance of her new apartment — where she’s living without younger sister Hilary for the first time. When she goes to the theater for her first day of rehearsal, conductor Jodie Moore asks her, “Are you usually an alto or a soprano?” “I don’t even know,” the actress admits. They sing a bit to figure it out, running through what will be one of Haylie’s main numbers, “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now.” “This is what I sang in my audition actually,” Haylie says. She knows the song but still needs a little help. “Really chew out the words,” Moore suggests. “Maybe alto would be good for you.” Moore gives her a tape with her notes on it to listen to for homework — too bad Haylie doesn’t have a cassette recorder to play it on. “This is the age of the iPod, people,” she jokes later.
Also on the agenda is meeting her castmates — her new family for the next few months, since Haylie will be in the show through October. Dance captain Rusty Mowery takes her on the tour, introducing her to “Hairspray” star Shannon Durig, who plays Tracy Turnblad, Amber’s arch-rival. “You’ll have so much fun being mean to me,” Durig tells her. Haylie then gets a rare peek at Blake Hammond (Edna Turnblad) as he’s transformed from a man to a woman. “You won’t recognize him next time,” Rusty tells her. “He’ll have boobs and a wig.” But the best advice comes from Darlene Love, who plays Motormouth Maybelle. “This is what we usually do back here in the dressing rooms,” Love explains. “We run up and down to the bathroom — there’s only one — and sometimes we don’t have on anything, so look out the door to see if someone’s coming before you make your dash.” “You’re going to have to tell me all your tricks!” Haylie says.
|Haylie In ‘Hairspray’|
18 days until opening night: Now that she’s had a few days to rehearse her voice, Haylie has to learn her steps. Dance captain Michelle Kittrell starts by teaching her the most choreographed number she needs to learn, “The Nicest Kids in Town.” Haylie tries to keep up while Michelle shouts out dance steps and moves: “Wave!” “Shimmy!” “Hitchhiker!” “Potato!” “Baltimore slide!” “Accentuate the shoulders on the pony circles,” Michelle tells her. “In my head, I’m counting, so it’s three drags with the foot, right, and then on eight?” Haylie asks. “Drag, drag, drag, turn?” Reciting lines and lyrics from that part of the show, Michelle gives her cues: ” ‘Don’t be silly, the TV’s not color, it’s black and white!’ Keep your right arm up.” “So out, out, in?” Haylie asks about her arm movements. “I have it, it’s just remembering that I do it that way.” After trying the choreography a few times, Haylie’s worn out. “Wait, we’ve got to go back. I forgot about what I’m doing. I’m in overload now.”
7 days until opening night: “Are you ready? Because we’re not!” William Ivey Long, the costume designer for the show and Broadway vet of 25 years, says as he swings open the doors of the fitting room. “It’s your final fitting, what do you think?” Haylie twirls in the bright yellow dress she wears for the show’s finale (minus the bodice; that’s still being worked on). “I love it, I love the belt!” William says, sitting down and looking up at her dress. “This is the exact angle of incidence, this is 10th row center. I did a test once.” “So am I going to be flashing people?” she asks, lifting up the skirt. “I keep you from doing that by sitting here,” William says. “That’s how I notice the bottom needs to come up.” Getting up, he pins her. “Is this for your meanest scene?” he asks. “She throws a fit, she throws the flowers, she crawls under the chair,” Haylie says, and realizes, “How am I going to fit under a chair in this?” The dress is 4 to 5 feet wide, like she has multiple petticoats on underneath. “Can you get under the stool?” William suggests. “Can I? Should I?” “If it won’t hurt the dress, it won’t hurt you.” “And it won’t crinkle it?” “The layers are all plastic,” he reveals. “It’s a 12-layer cake!” she laughs.
Now that Haylie’s learned her songs and dance moves, she has to try them out onstage for practice. This time she knows the steps but has a lot of questions about the blocking for “The Nicest Kids in Town.” “So behind Corny [Collins]?” “So I have to wait until the music changes for that? All the way to 12? Do I have to make it to 12? All the way down to four? And I’m still even with her, right?” Michelle Kittrell pretends to be Brenda, another council member from the Corny Collins Show, and practices with her. “You’re behind Link Larkin, Tammy is up here, so when you’re going here, she’s following you,” Michelle explains. “And when you turn the corner, she’s going behind you to get in the line, so that’s why you have to step on four, you set the line.” “When I turn, it confuses me,” Haylie tells her.
4 days until opening night: It’s Haylie’s first dress rehearsal, her first time doing any of the songs or dances with anyone else in the company besides her instructors, and instead of asking questions or missing turns, she’s going through it like a pro. She’s the only one in costume, besides a fellow newcomer who’s playing Link Larkin. “That was the first time I felt like I knew it,” Haylie says. “I didn’t feel like I missed too much. We only stopped a couple of times in that.
“With acting, you’re learning it in the environment you’re going to shoot it,” Haylie explains. “And before this, I hadn’t danced in a couple of years, so it was about getting my body back in that mode, and using muscles that you don’t really realize you’re using. It’s like running at the gym: You’re not using all the tiny muscles that you use when dancing, especially old-school dances. It’s way different than going out dancing at a club.”
Opening night: Thirty minutes before the show, everyone signs in and gets ready for the rush of performing live for a capacity crowd of 1,500. Haylie is a little overwhelmed to learn the crowd is almost double what she thought it would be, but she feels like the hard part was the dress rehearsal. “That made opening night a little more easy and relaxed.”
Her sister Hilary shows up two minutes before the curtain rises and sits with their mother, aunt, uncle and assorted friends in the sixth row. “It was my first time seeing anything she’s done for this, and I was bawling,” Hilary admits during the afterparty at the Palm, for which the cast is not only celebrating Haylie’s joining the company, but also the production’s four-year anniversary. “I thought she saw me, I thought she was looking at me, so I was going, ‘I love you!’ ” “I couldn’t see anybody!” Haylie says. “I know how nervous she was coming up here, but it looked like she had done the show 20 times,” Hilary says. “We’re so proud.” Haylie’s overcome with emotions after having made a successful debut in front of her family: “I can’t really think about what she just said, because I’ll cry!”