The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Seeing the stage from both sides: Two Iowa actors to perform in ‘Hairspray’ at Hancher

UI alum Amy Rodriguez and Iowa-born Sarah Hayes both saw their first national Broadway tour at Hancher. Now, they’re back to perform in one together.
Photo contributed by Rob Cline

Both Sarah Hayes and Amy Rodriguez were present at the national Broadway tour stops of “Rent” at Hancher Auditorium — Hayes as an audience member in 1999 and Rodriguez as a student stagehand in 2019.

This weekend, the two will return to Hancher. This time, however, they will both be centerstage, costarring in the Tony Award-winning national tour of “Hairspray.”

While a theatre arts major at the University of Iowa, Rodriguez spent three years working on touring productions at Hancher. Often, she would envision herself in the spotlight rather than operating it.

“I’d get up on the stage, just look out and be like, ‘Oh my gosh. This house is huge,’” Rodriguez recalled.

While still in school, Rodriguez auditioned for the lead role of Tracy Turnblad in the Royal Caribbean cruise’s year-long production of “Hairspray.” In 2022, less than a year after she graduated, she booked it.

When her tour docked in March of 2023, Rodriguez made the big move from her hometown of Schaumburg, Illinois — a northwest suburb of Chicago — to New York City. But her time as the loveable Broadway protagonist was far from over.

After only a few weeks of living in Manhattan, Rodriguez got a call back for a role she’d been dreaming of since 2019: the lead in the national Broadway tour of “Hairspray,” which was scheduled to stop at Hancher.

When Hayes sent in her self-tape for the same production, she did it solely on a friend’s recommendation. For Hayes, she felt it was a shot in the dark.

“I didn’t think I would be competitive on that level, but I thought, ‘Well, why not?’” Hayes said.

Hayes, who grew up in Clinton, Iowa, had only been professionally acting for a few years when she got her callback for the role of the play’s main antagonist, Velma Von Tussle.

Up against actresses with decades of experience at the callback auditions in New York City, Hayes was overcome with emotion when she learned she had booked the role. Even now, Hayes’ eyes still well when thinking back to the moment she learned she would return to Hancher and face the seat she once sat in from centerstage.

“I remember vividly how I felt walking into [Hancher] for the first time and sitting in my seat. I was right on the aisle,” Hayes recalled, fighting back happy tears during an interview with The Daily Iowan. “I didn’t dream at that point that I would ever get to be on that stage, but that performance kept the love of theater alive for me.”

To prepare for the role of Velma, who is the racist, combative, and manipulative mother of Tracy’s friend Amber, she studied the script in the context of its setting: 1960s Baltimore, Maryland.

“[I wanted] to study the history because it’s set in a real place in time … but it’s a balance because, in the beginning, it was very hard to say these words to a human,” Hayes shared.

She recalled nervously checking in with her fellow cast members before rehearsals, letting them know that she loved them and didn’t mean anything she was about to say to them on stage.

When the cast met for the first time, Hayes and Rodriguez quickly found each other. Their shared ties, both to Iowa and the stage to which they would soon return, brought them comfort in the face of their first national tour.

Though Rodriguez was booked as the Tracy Turnblad standby while actress Caroline Eiseman performed as the lead, she was far from disappointed, even if she would be offstage for the majority of the tour. The role was a learning curve for Rodriguez, but it was one she took in stride.

“I’ve never been in an offstage position — actually, I don’t even think I’ve ever understudied anything before — so this whole process has just been an incredible learning experience,” Rodriguez shared.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Hayes saw her first national tour at Hancher in 2019. The article has been updated to reflect the correct date of her first show, which was in 1999. The DI regrets this error.

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About the Contributor
Avi Lapchick
Avi Lapchick, Arts Editor
Avi Lapchick is an arts editor at The Daily Iowan. A fourth-year student studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa, she previously held the positions of staff photojournalist, summer arts editor, and assistant arts editor at the DI. She is happiest when she is writing or painting.