You Can’t Stop the Beat at Toby’s Dinner Theatre: Meet the Nicest Kids in Town- Samantha McEwen Deininger and Renata Hammond

You can try to stop the seasons, hon, but you know you never will! As the season of summer gets hot underway in Baltimore, Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia sets to open their production of Hairspray. Entering the second part of the “You Can’t Stop the Beat” interview series, TheatreBloom sits down with two of the show’s Dynamites, Samantha McEwen Deininger and Renata Hammond, for a chitchat about the production and just what it’s been like to be a part of the show.

Ladies, thank you both for your time, if you would like to give us a quick introduction, we’ll get going!

Actress Renata Hammond, currently playing a Dynamite in Hairspray at Toby's Dinner Theatre
Actress Renata Hammond, currently playing a Dynamite in Hairspray at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

Renata Hammond: I’m Renata Hammond. I play a Dynamite in this show. This is my second time playing a Dynamite. I did it once last summer. It was super cool. I did that with Purple Light Theatre Company in Baltimore. I did Ragtime with Sam at Memorial Players about a month ago. Let’s see, what else is there…let me reach back now. I did 9 to 5 at Silhouette Stages, and there was Jekyll & Hyde at Spotlighters, Once Upon a Mattress was in there somewhere. I’ve been around!

Samantha McEwen Deininger: I’m Samantha McEwen Deininger and I play a— oh goodness, what are we? Dynamites! That’s right. I’m a dynamite.

I always end up calling them the Dynamos, actually.

Renata: That’s funny. My mother calls them “The Dynamos.” Or sometimes “The Supremes.”

Sam: Right? So I’m a Dynamite, and let’s see in this last year I’ve done Ragtime twice, first here at Toby’s then at Memorial players. I got married over the summer. I did Godspell before that with Silhouette Stages, and I think that’s everything in the last year.

Renata, this is your second time performing in Hairspray, but Sam, this is your first time tackling the show. What is it like coming into the show as someone who has done it before and for you, Sam, as a new experience?

Renata: I really love doing this show, it’s one of my favorite shows next to Spring Awakening. But I’m not even gonna lie, I’m a creature of habit. When you do the same show over and over again for the entire summer and then you try to learn it again in a different key for a different part? Ask Sam how many times I end up singing her note. All the time, I’m singing through “You Can’t Stop the Beat” and I pop up at the end, and have to go “Shoot! Nope! That’s not my note!” All the time! But it’s still fun to learn.

Everybody here at Toby’s has been very welcoming. I mean this is Sam’s 17-bazillionth show, but this is my very first show here. And you never know what you’re going to get when you do a show somewhere for the first time. Everybody is so nice and I haven’t felt like the red-headed stepchild or anything, I feel embraced.

Samantha McEwen Deininger as a Dynamite in Toby's production of Hairspray
Samantha McEwen Deininger as a Dynamite in Toby’s production of Hairspray Samantha McEwen Deininger

Sam: Yeah, I really love working here. It’s such a great family feel. And I love this show. I actually just saw it for the first time when Renata did it last summer and I loved it! I wanted to get up on the stage, jump up there and dance along with them. Then of course, when they cast me I got so excited because I was going to get my chance to jump up and dance with everybody. I love it! I think it’s the most fun show I’ve ever done!

Hairspray addresses the topic of body image pretty early on and pretty consistently throughout. How do you think the concept of body image and profiling thereof is impacting today’s society?

Sam: I would say there’s still definitely an impact in society especially when it comes to people who make their careers as performers like we do. I look at myself, and I don’t really consider myself to be a dancer, but I am in a lot of dance shows with a lot of smaller dance-type girls. I certainly get much more self-conscious about that. It plays into it with casting and things, I think. I’m sure we all wish that it wouldn’t, but it does happen.

Renata: I agree with her. I definitely feel like a little baby beluga next to all these skinny dancer people. They’re so good. And there’s just me flapping my arms and moving my feet. I feel like the concept of body image is way too relevant in today’s society.

The other big topic addressed in the show is civil rights and equality. Do you think these are still relevant topics in today’s society?

Sam: Didn’t we just have this conversation during our Ragtime interview?

Renata: I don’t think it’s ever going to go away, I think it’s always going to be relevant, the only difference is it’s no longer just a black and white kind of thing. Now it’s every kind of race. I was sitting in my car, which is really rare for me, but I was sitting there thinking about how my mother was alive when they had “white only” restrooms. I’ve never experienced that personally but that’s not to say I haven’t experienced other types of racial discrimination; you know what I mean. But it really just blows my mind that it’s still a thing. This was not that long ago.

Sam: It’s odd just thinking about that dynamic. And I think I did say this during the Ragtime interview, I don’t remember, but earlier in the year my kids were studying things for Black History Month, and they were asking me about “why would people care if you and papa were married?” And having to explain to them that unfortunately not that long ago in history, people did care and interracial marriage was a real problem for them, was a really interesting conversation. The kids don’t care because this is how they were raised, interracial marriage is the same as non-interracial marriage to them, so trying to get them to understand what that was like in history, was something else. I mean it was illegal during history that again was not so long ago. It is odd thinking about having to fight for something like that— the right to marry someone you love because they have a different color skin than you do— because it’s just always been something we’ve had in our lifetime.

What would you say has been your biggest challenge in being a part of this production of Hairspray here at Toby’s?

Renata: Remembering what to do and when to do it. I mean that’s any show? But especially this show because it is such a fast-paced show.

Sam: Just the physicality of it. It’s fast! By that last song, you’re huffing and puffing. It forces you to get in shape!

Renata: Multiple occasions have had us both reaching for inhalers. It’s a thing! This is FAST!

This is the first time for both of you working with Director and Choreographer Mark Minnick, what has that been like?

Sam: I love it, personally. I love his energy. I think he works out really well. For this type of show you have to have somebody who’s really upbeat and ready. And Mark is right there, he represents, and I just love that, personally.

Renata: I like him too. I think he’s funny. I always find it funny when guys can show you exactly what they want you to do and then they look better at doing it than you do.

What’s your favorite moment in the show?

Renata: Oh I need a second to figure that one out.

Sam: I really like the finale, “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” I just like everything that it has to say and I love the dancing. It’s a great big happy ending.

Renata Hammond (center) as a Dynamite in the 2015 summer production of Hairspray at Purple Light Theatre Company
Renata Hammond (center) as a Dynamite in the 2015 summer production of Hairspray at Purple Light Theatre Company Purple Light Theatre Company

Renata: That is not my favorite. I do not enjoy moving that much. That is too much movement for me while singing and remembering which note to sing. I think “I Know Where I’ve Been.” I love that song, I love that moment, I think it’s nice.

That answers my next question, what’s your favorite song…

Renata: Yes, it does. That whole moment and song right there, that does it for me, yes, ma’am.

Sam: Let’s see…I think my favorite song may actually be “Run and Tell That.” It’s just fun.

What is it that gives you that “Good morning, Baltimore” feel? What gets your morning routine going? Some people have said coffee, some people have said puppies…

Renata: Puppy-flavored coffee? I’m kidding. See, I’m not a morning person. Now, I feel like I can get more stuff done in the morning, if I can just get moving in the morning. Usually, I look at the clock, look at the clock again, and then when I look at the clock and realize that I’m late *THAT* gets me moving. It’s that thought of “I might be late if I don’t move my butt now…” that usually does it for me.

Sam: I’m not a morning person either. But I have kids in the house. So that’s what gets me up in the morning, whether I like it or not.

Motormouth Maybelle invites us to take a look inside her book of recipes. What is your favorite comfort food and is it different from your character’s favorite comfort food?

Sam: Let’s see, my favorite comfort food is anything with chocolate. And since I’m on a low-carb diet, anything with bread in it for that matter. Bread and sugar! I don’t know what my character would like…probably the same, she’s kind of the bubbly one of the group so she wants that chocolate.

Renata: Anything with bread. I’m like Oprah in that commercial. “I love bread. I love bread. I love bread!” Pasta, bread, any kind of starch, I feel such great joy! Now, my backstory that me and Gerald (ensemble member Gerald Jordan) have created for my character is going to factor into this dynamite’s favorite food. So you know how when Edna and Wilbur turn up at the record shop after having stopped for chicken-n-waffles at Ruby’s Takeout? Well, I’m Ruby’s daughter. So she is all about those chicken-n-waffles! Now, I don’t actually like fried chicken in real life. So my character is all over it because mamma makes it right.

Being from Baltimore, or at least from Maryland, how do you feel about crabs? Are you a fan?

Sam: Oh yes. Pick them, eat them, love. Yes, yes, yes!

Renata: Yes. Love me some crabs.

Chocolate? Yea or nay?

Sam: Yes. Definitely yes. Remember the comfort food question? Yes. All the chocolate.

Renata: It really depends on my mood. I mean I said it before we started interviewing, I am all the chocolate that I need.

What does “you can’t stop the beat” mean to you?

Sam: It just means you can’t stop me. You can’t stop my positive energy; you can’t hold me down. That’s why I like that last song so much because it’s all about embracing who you are and if you don’t like it I don’t care.

Renata: I like that. It’s definitely a “let your freak flag fly” kind of thing.

What has doing this show taught you about yourself?

Renata: Hmm. That I am enough. I am so enough it is unbelievable how enough I am.

Sam: It’s helping me feel good about myself because it’s reminding me that I can keep up with the young kids. I’ve recently discovered that I am in the “older” portion of this cast, which I don’t like admitting. And girl, let me tell you what, keeping up with the “young ones” is no joke.

Renata: That is so not old. And you can twerk with the best of us, Sam.

Sam: I’ve been doing my jogging in the morning, coming here at night for intense rehearsals, and it made me realize, “I’ve still got it!”

Why do you want people to come and see Hairspray here at Toby’s this summer?

Renata: Because we’re in it. But seriously, it’s a good, family, ‘feel-good’ musical. You will feel empowered when you leave here and if you do not you need to come and talk to somebody because you were not sitting in the right section. You will feel this show in your soul, okay?

Sam: It’s fun. It’s summer, this is fun, you’re not going to have a bad time. You’re going to have the opposite of a bad time.

Renata: A good time?

Sam: Yes. You are going to have a good time. Such a good time, you’re going to get up out of your seat and dance and we hope you do, we encourage it.

Hairspray plays through September 4, 2016 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia— 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia, MD. For tickets please call (301) 596-6161 or purchase them online

To read Part 1 of the You Can’t Stop the Beat interview series featuring Coby Kay Callahan and Darren McDonnell, click here.

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