It must have been a monumental task for Victor Vyleta's mom to find women's shoes in a size 16 for her 6-foot-5-inch, square-jawed son to wear in the traditionally male-cast role of Edna Turnblad in "Hairspray," Larkin High School's spring musical.
But like John Travolta did in the 2007 movie version, Vyleta will be wearing a fat suit under a very large dress, a wig, a string of pearls and size 16 heels when he takes the stage this weekend; a pretty big step for a guy who was home schooled until high school and marks the production as his first.
If you goWhat: Larkin High School's production of "Hairspray"
When: 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, April 12-13; 19-20
Where: Larkin High School auditorium, 1475 Larkin Ave., Elgin
Tickets: $8, $6 with student I.D.
Details: (847) 888-5200
However, if Vyleta had any reservations about the role, he left them behind early on.
"I have that jaw and I have the height, and I can totally play that part," he said of the casting.
As for the shoes, "They're rather uncomfortable. It's hard because I walk downstairs a lot in a fat suit and I can't see my feet," Vyleta said. "But, once I wore them for three days, they became normal."
"It's a wonderful acting exercise," said director Eduardo Hernandez. "We brought the idea to the students and they liked that challenge of a male actor to portray a woman that is not a cartoon, but a funny woman, a fat woman, a tall woman; and we brought it to him and he said, 'yes.'"
Vyleta takes the experience with a grain of salt.
"There are little jokes here and there," he says of his peers. "I don't take it to heart. But when the show comes together they're going to be like, 'Oh my gosh, that was awesome.'"
The musical's focus, however, is not the idea of a man in a dress. The broader theme is acceptance, with the focus on a girl named Tracy Turnblad who wants to dance on an "American Bandstand" type show in the early 1960s and the push back she receives as a result of her weight.
Katie Burke, 17, of Elgin plays Tracy. Decked out in a miniskirt, a bouffant wig and platform, knee-high boots, she inhabits the role of a teenager who doesn't let circumstances get her down.
Burke has overcome challenges to participate in a musical, having broken a number of bones in her knee while playing soccer last year.
"Coming back and dancing so intensely, it's making my bruise come back. I ignore it and just pull through," she said.
A veteran of Children's Theatre of Elgin, Burke isn't daunted by the lead role.
"At first I was nervous, because that's a lot of weight on your shoulders, but after I read it I realized that the lines were easy, and I'm thankful for Senor (Hernandez) giving me the part," she said. "I hope I prove to be a good Tracy."
"Hairspray," which began life as a Broadway play, focuses on Tracy's determination to end segregation on the dance program as well as her high school, a goal which is met with hostility.
The subject of racial relations can still be touchy, despite the progress made to date, and that's one of the reasons Hernandez considered the show a good fit.
"Having a school like this one that has so many cultures, it's a must," he said. "I don't think we have that a big problem. We have an administration that won't allow that, but it's a good message.
"We can't avoid controversial topics or we won't move ahead," he added. "We can't hide that we still have race problems with the country and it's bad cancer, and we need to deal with it. It takes time and a lot of good teachers to work with it and bring it out."
Many of the students consider the '60s prehistoric, Hernandez said. Still, they stand amazed that segregation was still an issue at that point in history.
"I've always found it disturbing that it was such a big deal, especially because there've been so many wars about it," Vyleta said. "At the same time, we've come so far."
Burke expects that her generation will go far in tackling injustice.
"We're becoming more progressive now," Burke said.
"Who knows how long it will be that gay marriage is normal? We are just an accepting generation. We accept change and we like change."
Bartlett: John Kolovos, Joseph Miller, Rebecca Sweeney
Elgin: Kemmerin Blalark, Kathryn Burke, Allison Carpenter, Amber Chamberlain, Romello Cole, Miguel Feliciano, Alexis Gonzalez, Alexandria Hardman, Alyssa Hardman, Ally Hooloway, Elijah Jones, Brailey Kerber, Hector Lopez, Melanie López, Katy Nachampassack, Brittany Neloms, Danielle Polk, Chiara Pries, Eric Richer, Carmina Ramos, Aleta Soron, Everett Teetor, Victor Vyleta, Ahnna Wilkes
Hanover Park: Dakota Dukes
South Elgin: Katie Hinkle, Izzy Mascote
Streamwood: Itzayana Gomez, Sam Jurek, Austin Keating, Samantha Kiss, Jen Miller, Kim Bailey Rivera, Priscilla Torres