Cloverdale-raised Elyse Maloway is finding more opportunities to play against type – including a teen diva in TUTS' production of Hairspray.

‘Showy’ role a change of pace for Surrey actress

Elyse Maloway steps out as Hairspray's Amber Von Tussle in Theatre Under The Stars production

Surrey’s Elyse Maloway is becoming a name to reckon with in theatre circles.

The Cloverdale-raised actress and playwright, 22 – recent graduate of Capilano University’s three-year Musical Theatre program – has already attracted attention in shows for Surrey Little Theatre (Get Smart and her own script, Splintered), the White Rock Players Club (The Lion In Winter), Bard in the Valley (Julius Caesar), Exit 22 and Fighting Chance Productions (A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum).

She’s all set to play the lead role of Lucy in the original 1927 stage version of Dracula, for Ellie King’s Royal Canadian Theatre Company, which will tour to Vancouver, Surrey and Maple Ridge in October.

But this summer, she’s bursting onto the Vancouver scene in a far different incarnation – the showy role of Amber Von Tussle in Theatre Under The Stars’ production of Hairspray.

The musical just opened in Malkin Bowl at Stanley Park and runs – in rotation with Oliver! – until Aug. 22.

Based on the 1988 John Waters cult movie, Hairspray is set in Baltimore, circa 1962, and follows the misadventures of optimistic teen underdog Tracy Turnblad, determined to become the star of her favourite pop music TV program, the Corny Collins Show.

The trouble is that Tracy is far from the homogenized ‘look’ the show requires for its young  performers – and she also has to contend with the equally-determined opposition of producer Velma Von Tussle and her snooty, short-on-talent daughter Amber, already enthroned as the program’s teen princess.

For Maloway, playing Amber is another step away from being typed as the “innocent girl.”

It’s a quality she well-embodied in two earlier Community Theatre Coalition-nominated roles;   Philia in A Funny Thing, her first big Vancouver musical, and Alais Capet in The Lion In Winter, who, while a king’s mistress, needed to suggest youth and a certain naivete.

“It’s exciting to get something different to play – and exciting when people give you that chance,” Maloway told Peace Arch News.

The former Martha Currie Elementary and Langley Senior Secondary student confesses that she has been a fan of Hairspray ever since she saw the 2007 John Travolta-Michelle Pfeiffer-Nikki Blonsky movie version of the musical, in which the Amber role was portrayed by Brittany Snow.

“You love to hate Amber,” Maloway said.

“She’s very spoiled – she definitely gets treated like a princess and expects to be treated that way.

“It’s very fun to play. But I do try to be extra nice to people when I’m not on stage –  ‘this isn’t really me!'”

Not that she’s reining in any of Amber’s diva qualities when she’s in the spotlight, she said. In this, Maloway is guided by director Sarah Rogers, who she credits with having a very strong vision of what she wants and a willingness to experiment with suggestions her actors bring to the table.

“We’re really going for broke with Amber – she’s very much like all of the high school stereotypes of all the ‘popular’ girls we’ve ever known.”

When asked if it’s possible she could be accessing an inner-Amber, Maloway allows there are some similarities she shares with the character.

“We’re both very much Type A personalities,” she admitted.

“She likes to control things and I tend to want to do that, too – although it goes an extra little bit too far with Amber!”

Also informing her on-stage appearances is her ability as a playwright, which first came to notice when she won the Write On competition in 2008, at the age of 15.

Her original script Splinters – in which a single park bench became the setting for a series of intersecting stories – was accepted for production by Surrey Little Theatre for its youth troupe in 2010.

“I got to cast it and direct it – Surrey Little Theatre’s Brigitte Seib and Tyler Seib gave me wonderful support,” she said.

“And the Capilano program has been fantastic for me – not only in developing skills in auditioning and performing, but also in how to stay focused and be professional.”

It also gave her another writing opportunity – she and a classmate co-created an original musical based on the life of ancient British warrior queen Boudicca (Boadicea) for a workshop production.

“We tried to make it as historically accurate as possible – given that there is very little history available – but it did tend more toward the theatrical,” she said.

“I hope it can be resurrected at some point.”

In the meantime, the busy actress is having too much fun with her current run of theatrical ‘stretch’ roles – which, in addition to the obnoxious Amber, recently included the moody Marya in Gogol’s The Government Inspector, 10-year-old Colin in The Secret Garden, both  for Exit 22, and the conspirator/assassin Cassius in Bard in the Valley’s Julius Caesar.

And she’s looking forward to exploring the role of Lucy in Dracula – in which the young woman, an innocent victim at the outset, falls increasingly under the influence of the vampire count.

Finding ways to show both sides of the character will also be an interesting challenge, Maloway said.

“Hopefully, I don’t develop a personality disorder in the process!” she added.

For information, or to book tickets to Hairspray, visit tuts.ca or call 1-877-840-0457.

 

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