He ‘can’t stop the beat’

Elijah Kelley, right, played Seaweed J. Stubbs in the 2007 film version of Hairspray.
Elijah Kelley, right, played Seaweed J. Stubbs in the 2007 film version of Hairspray.

By Heather Fiore

From the classroom to Broadway, one Rider student is taking his life on tour.

A sophomore musical theater major who lives on the Lawrenceville campus, Rich Crandle recently received probably one of the most important phone calls to help kick off his professional career.

“Since getting the phone call, I have been on cloud nine,” Crandle explained.

After a grueling audition process, he was invited to be a part of the traveling cast of the Broadway show-turned-movie Hairspray, a musical set in 1962. Tracy Turnblad, a plus-size high school student, meets Seaweed J. Stubbs (the best “Negro” dancer) in detention one day and learns dance moves that land her a role on “The Corny Collins Show,” which features only white students. While on the show, she integrates the dancers and becomes a teen sensation.

Getting the part of Seaweed  proved to be a long journey. For the audition, he traveled to the casting call’s last stop, New York City.

“I thought it would be a great way to gain some professional audition experience, for this was my first professional audition ever,” Crandle said.

At the dance call on Aug. 28, he was taught a challenging routine and received a call-back for the next round.

“I was competing against people from all over the country,” Crandle said. “I was called back and wasn’t expecting that at all.”

He was asked to return the next day,for  an audition more focused on singing.

“Usually these auditions call for 16 bars of a song,” Crandle said. “I went in and I sang no more than five bars, and they stopped me, handed me show material to learn and asked me to return the next day.”

Crandle was slowly but surely watching his dream come true.

At the third audition, Crandle was asked to repeat the original dance that he was taught in the first audition; however, since Crandle said “the judging was impossible due to the talent in the room,” the choreographer devised a new, harder routine for the performers to learn.

“I danced my heart out and the next thing I know, they are calling my name to come back later that day to sing with the material I was given from the show,” he said.

When Crandle returned, he had to sing a solo. After his song, he was asked to return the next day with only seven guys still up for the role of Seaweed. He sang another song, acted out two scenes and then waited out in the hallway. There were only two others waiting in the hallway along with him; the casting director followed, asked to see only Crandle and sent the other two guys home.

“I walked in and the director asked me to sing again,” Crandle said. “I sang, there was silence, and I was sent home.”

Crandle received a call on Sept. 8, confirming his role as Seaweed J. Stubbs in the 2009 traveling cast of Hairspray.

Crandle will be taking next semester off to perform in the show.

“If I find more work after the tour, I will let my career take its course,” Crandle said. “If not, I will be returning to school.”

For more information, visit www.hairsprayontour.com.

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