‘Hairspray’ actress sticking with theater

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 15, 2010

By David Vitrano


NEW ORLEANS – This weekend River Parishes residents may get their last chance to see a rising star take to a local stage.

St. John the Baptist Parish native Dianna Duffy stars in Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre’s production of “Hairspray,” the musical based on John Waters’ 1988 movie of the same name. The show opens Friday and runs through Oct. 10.

Duffy plays Tracy Turnblad, a somewhat overweight Baltimore teen whose goal of appearing on a local TV dance show ends up uniting a town.

The role is the culmination of a theatrical journey that began when Duffy was just 8 years old.

It was then that she auditioned for the show “Annie” at St. John Theatre. Although she was too young to land the lead, she was cast as one of the orphans.

“I can remember laying down with the other girls and peeking under the curtain,” said Duffy. “It was just love at first sight.”

It was a love her parents had noticed a few years earlier when they took their kindergarten-age daughter to see a production of the same show. According to Duffy, she stood up as soon as the curtain rose and remained on her feet throughout the entirety of the show.

“(My mother) knew there was something there,” Duffy noted.

Since then, Duffy has appeared in productions throughout the region and studied at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.

She recalled when, as a high school student at Mt. Carmel Academy, she attended career day. Afterward, she asked one of her NOCCA instructors if he thought she could cut it as a veterinarian.

He responded, “If you become a veterinarian, I will quit my job.”

After “Hairspray” concludes its run, Duffy, a recent graduate of the University of Alabama, where she majored in both musical theater and public relations, plans to try her luck on the stages of New York City.

Duffy said her family is very close, and she is grateful for this opportunity to spend some time with them before heading north.

Duffy is quick to give much of the credit for her success to her mother, Karen Duffy.

“She’s what started this. She’s my rock,” said Duffy. “She’s is my ultimate support. She’s my biggest fan.”

Duffy noted her mother has never missed one of her shows. That saying quite a bit considering “Hairspray” is Duffy’s 57th.

Her involvement in “Hairspray” represents a bit of both literal and figurative role reversal for the young thespian.

While at the University of Alabama, Duffy said she the average age of the characters she played was 35. Now a college graduate, she finds herself playing a high school student.

But more than that, Duffy remembered being a bright-eyed kid when she previously appeared on the stage at the French Quarter theater. Now she is the one offering guidance.

“There’s this ensemble of really talented kids, and they’re looking up to me,” she said. “It’s fun and terrifying.”

Duffy, though, seems comfortable in whatever role she’s cast.

“It really is a dream come true,” she said.

For tickets or more information on “Hairspray,” visit www.lepetittheatre.com.