Alum starring in Twin Cities ‘Hairspray’ run

Therese Walth

Therese Walth, UW-L alumna, stars in "Hairspray" at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.

Therese Walth is brave, bold — and she has big hair. Walth, ’06, is playing the lead role of Tracy Turnblad in the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ production of “Hairspray,” the Broadway musical, Aug. 5-Jan. 28.

Turnblad is a teenager growing up in Baltimore in the 1960s, whose appearance on the popular “Corny Collins Show” transforms her from social outcast to star.

“She’s bubbly and has a hard work ethic,” says Walth about her character. “There is a lot of it I can relate to.”

Walth auditioned and learned she’d play the part in March. She immediately called her dad, UW-La Crosse Director of Choral Music Studies Gary Walth, to share in the excitement.

“I was talking so fast he couldn’t understand what I was saying,” says Walth.

She called Mary Leonard, her former UW-L music instructor and theater director, who is “like a second mom to me,” says Walth.

“I wasn’t remotely surprised,” says Leonard. “This is one of the roles she is meant to play. When I first heard her sing, I said this young woman has a gift.”

Walth, who now lives in Bloomington, Minn., majored in music education and performance with an emphasis in music theatre.

“I owe so much of who I am and my responsibilities in this role to UW-La Crosse,” says the Onalaska High School graduate. “I have such pride for La Crosse in my heart.”

Therese Walth

Therese Walth, as Tracy Turnblad, dances on stage at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.

She was exposed to various genres of music during her education, which has allowed her to excel in the demanding roles she has encountered in the professional world. Terry Kelly, her UW-L voice teacher, trained her primarily in classical music, which can require a lot of vocal strength.


“It’s allowed me to do this role every night,” she says. “I’m on stage 80 percent of the show.”

Kathy Gorman, UW-L dance instructor, exposed her to a variety of dance styles so she could quickly recognize the choreography she needed to learn during the short, three-weeks of rehearsal prior to the first Chanhassen performance. Her UW-L experience even helped with interviews with the press about the show.

“It stems from being a Vanguard (UW-L tour guide) and being able to talk about things and present in a way that people understand,’ says Walth.

Walth says she still can’t believe her job is getting on stage to sing, dance and act. The reviews say she’s doing a great job of it.

“This was a great musical and I thought she was perfect as Tracy Turnblad,” says UW-L alumnus Paul Alexander, ’88, who saw her on stage.

Others can’t wait to see her.

“I’m bursting with pride,” says Leonard. “All of us are in the theatre department … we are all chomping at the bit to see her.”

UW-L alumna Therese Walth stars in "Hairspray" at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.

This is Therese Walth's debut at the Chanhassen. "It's been a blessing," she says. She has admired this place since her father took her to the dinner theatre as a member of the UW-L Concert Choir.


Q: How get your hair to do that?
A: It’s actually a wig. I wish my hair would do that, but it’s so fine that there is no way. I wear two different wigs during the show and we have a wig dresser who puffs them up before we put them on.

Q: What is your favorite song or part in the show?
A: We have this dodgeball scene in gym class where Tracy is confronting the mean girl — Amber. It’s my favorite part of the show every night because the girl who plays Amber, Nicole Renee Chapman, is the sweetest thing you’ll ever meet. The fact that she has to play the mean girl is so funny. She’s outstanding. It kills her to have to call me a name. She’ll apologize during rehearsal, “I’m so sorry that my character says this to you.” She would never do that in real life, but she’s such good actress, she can do it.

Q: What do you do backstage before the show?
A: We get a 30 minute curtain call. I’m always there an hour and a half early. I mostly dilly-dally around and I’m laughing and talking with the cast in the girl’s dressing room. I start the show on an upper platform. I have to get into this bed. Before then I’m stretching out. I say a prayer. What is nice is that two guys from the cast, Mark King and Jay Albright, are up there with me. They are always joking around. It’s a nice way to start the show. It kind of puts you at ease.

Therese Walth’s theater experience

Walth has performed with Bloomington Civic Theatre, The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company and Guthrie Theater. Favorite roles include Pirates of Penzance (Ruth), The Full Monty (Vicky), Crimes of the Heart (Chick Boyle) and The Secret Garden (Martha).

See Walth perform at the Chanhassen

Join the UW-L Alumni Association & the College of Liberal Studies on Saturday, Dec. 3, for a matinee performance of Hairspray at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre. The performance features Therese Walth as Tracy Turnblad. Enjoy a special afternoon of theatre and meet other UW-L alumni from the Twin Cities area. Find more here.

Featured in the Winter 2011-12 Magazine