Interviews With Hairspray Live! Cast
Interviews With Hairspray Live! Cast
Posted by Sade Graham
December 6, 2016
Anticipation is building as we gain closer to the Wednesday, December 7th premiere date of NBC’s 4th Annual Live! Holiday special, Hairspray Live!, airing at 8/9c.
You may recall the 2007 film version featuring Queen Latifah, John Travolta, Michelle Pfieffer, Zac Efron and more.
It is a story set in the 1962 era in Baltimore, Maryland, a time where segregation & racism was law. A common unifier that resonated throughout the Baltimore streets and around most of the country, was an innate passion shared by all for the art of song & dance.
Under the same direction of last year’s main event ‘The Wiz Live!’ production, both Tony Award-winners Harvey Fierstein (actor/playwright) who wrote the actual teleplay and plays Edna Turnblad – the reprised role he honed on Broadway over the years; and director Kenny Leon who referred to Hairspray as his ‘most rewarding project’; both signed on again to curate the story with an exceptional, all-star cast.
The live performance will introduce brilliant acting newcomer/lead Maddie Baillio as Tracy Turnblad – the curvy/vivacious teenaged girl who uses her new platform on a segregated “The Corny Collins Show” creating inspirational change throughout the community; and DWTS Derek Hough ironically playing an off-beat teen dance show host Corny Collins, himself.
Multi-award winning singer/actress and best-selling author Jennifer Hudson will play Motormouth Maybelle – the R&B record store owner who hosts the monthly ‘Negro Day’ on Corny’s show; and Ariana Grande as Penny Pingleton, Tracy’s best friend.
Disney Channel star Dove Cameron is one Amber Von Tussle – Tracy’s nemesis while Kristin Chenoweth plays her mother Velma Von Tussle – the antagonist who see’s no reason for change. Martin Short takes on the role as Wilbur Turnblad – Tracy’s supportive father, and Garret Clayton as Link Larkin – boyfriend of Tracy’s nemesis who later falls in love with her.
Broadway’s Hamilton thespian Ephraim Sykes plays Seaweed J. Stubbs – a hip dancer/son of Motormouth Maybelle who falls in love with Penny, and School of Rock’s Shahadi Wright Joseph finds great pride in her role as Little Inez – little sister to Seaweed and supporter of racial integration; and other great talents to notice, come a week from this Wednesday.
After witnessing results due to star power in ‘The Sound Of Music’ live NBC performance in 2013, compared to a failed ‘Peter Pan’ in 2014 due to lack of; to then seeing a ratings jump the following year with ‘The Wiz’, and the all the star power there. Hairspray Live! creative panel knew the stakes with pulling off this show.
Sitting at a roundtable discussion with the cast and crew of Hairspray Live! in the middle of the Universal Studios lot in Los Angeles, Storyline Production duo responsible for motion picture standouts “Hairspray”, “The Bucket List”, “Footloose”, and the Oscar-winning best picture “Chicago”, executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron talked about the combination between a good, classic title and talent that can bring such a production to its full potential.
“I think we need stars.” Meron explained, “We had the good fortune when we did the ‘Sound of Music’ with Carrie Underwood, it showed us that star power is so important to the success of these projects.”
He went on to say, “I don’t think there was any particular prescience on our part other than the fact that, the titles that we choose we like to look upon them as timeless titles. Titles that can exist whenever you do them; and we feel that about Hairspray.”
And on top of star power, viewers will be in for another treat with an added advantage of a coastal set change from Long Island, New York’s Grumman Studios to the world-famous Universal Studios backlot in Hollywood, California; breathing more life and color to the live interpretation.
In regards to the change in location, Zadan revealed, “We were getting slightly claustrophobic in New York because we had a soundstage that was a black box, we couldn’t expand. This show felt expansive; we wanted to go outside. The Corny Collins Show has an audience, organically; so we wanted an audience. We wanted a lot of things that only lends itself to a backlot, a studio lot like this. And now we can fulfill the needs of this production, which I don’t think we could have done in New York.”
And with Trump’s stunning election win occurring well after the Hairspray Live!’ creative team were already selected, it might still be symbolic to something. Meron suggested the message became more powerful throughout the year as they progressed in their preparations and how the relevance of the story was a stroke of timing. “It’s always been our favorite form of entertainment, where` you don’t realize that you are being fed something important. Where you are going to be so entertained, and then afterwards, you will have so much to think about,” said Meron. “A best form of entertainment. You’re going to be able to have discussions about it; and what it means,” he added.
“Forget about the election for a moment,” Zadan responded on the matter. He explained that there were several things that factored in when considering Hairspray for this year’s live show, “One thing is the fact that, the country has been in a racial turmoil for the last couple years. And what’s been happening has been very upsetting. We feel that, the only way we can express our point of view is through art and what we make and put out there into the world.” He added, “We thought that this was an incredible entertainment, but it also had a message about something serious.”
“We felt like, now was the time for it.”
He continued, “There are many reasons why a story like this is important, I’ll give you one more, we’ve always wanted to have Harvey’s performance caught for posterity. And now, everybody that saw him on Broadway doing his Tony winning role, now everybody can see and will be able to see it over, and over again.”
“It’s just a stroke of timing where it becomes even more relevant.”
And with four other Broadway musicals underway, no doubt to go off without a hitch, is only testament to their many previous accolades.
Back in his treasured role as Edna Turnblad, Harvy Fierstein described what penning the teleplay was like, “Having performed it a thousand times myself, I wanted that same (Broadway) experience for the audience, so I stayed as close as I could to the Broadway experience and told the story that way. And hopefully used everybody else’s storytelling in there.”
Referring to the rest of the creative team, Harvey went on, “Because Derek (McClane) has a way of telling his story; and Jerry (Mitchell), obviously is telling a story with the choreography and that incredible score; and Mary (Vogt) is filling in all that color; and I can tell you as a performer, what I’m getting a feeling of, is that I’m in this immersive movie, this three dimensional thing that hopefully all that energy will translate.”
And on whether not he might be putting the role to rest for good, Harvey explained, “My experience with Edna is a full one. I’ve done a thousand performances of her on Broadway alone; I’ve dented Hollywood Bowl, I did Las Vegas. She and I are well acquainted; we are very good friends. But I love sitting in the audience, watching other people do it.”
Harvey’s thoughts of Tracy, Edna’s daughter, “It always takes some visionary for whatever reason. Tracy is the symbol of it. That’s why that scene was written the way it is written, when Motormouth says to her (Tracy), “Is it about dancing, is it about getting a boy? And Tracy says, ‘No, it’s about doing what’s right.’ And that’s just it.”
He added, “She is her father’s daughter, more than Edna’s because he is fearless and Edna is the opposite. And then she (Tracy) get’s all of that (fame), and she changes the world out of joy. She says ‘let us go out and dance together, and by dancing together we will change the world’.”
“It’s the positive-ness. She is not going out there with malice.”
The good thing about a character like Tracy Turnblad in current times, Martin Short who plays Edna’s husband and Tracy’s dad had to say this, “I think that what’s wonderful about the character Tracy is that she has grown up in this household of so much love, so much support, and so much being told that she is beautiful, she is unique and she is spectacular. That she comes out with this confidence, she says ‘we can change these rules’. We are now in a political time where we are seeing people who are blatantly on the wrong side, and people who are on the right side. That’s what this play is about.”
“Therefore, it’s more timely than ever, and more profound.”
After joining forces on projects like “Steel Magnolias”, & “Raisin in the Sun”, Kenny Leon, Meron and Zadan had already been familiar with eachother’s outstanding work ethic. Leon said, “It was a yes right away,” after being asked to join the Hairspray Live! creative team.
“I saw myself as director of it, I thought, it’s a beautiful musical that has this little thing of the Motormouth Gang, and you have the Turnblad’s home; those two homes, the most non-racist, non-sexist people in this story. When J-Hud talks to the young people about how the world should be, Harvey talks to his family about it, without those stories, we have no stories.”
“I wanted to see what I would do as an African American artist, specifically, what I would do with this particular piece. And then when last Tuesday happened (election day), that upped the game.”
“This is why you are doing what you are doing. As artists, you have to keep asking yourself throughout your career, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Are you in for the money? Are you in for the fame? Why are you in it? Now, it’s clear to us.”
“This is a musical about embracing everybody regardless of their size, color of your skin, culture. And they really got it. The campaign saying that these people don’t belong, America doesn’t belong, you don’t belong…these young people are saying, yes they do.”
“So Hairspray is important. It’s entertaining, its fun, its inclusive, it’s relatable. And it doesn’t feel like 1962; it feels like now.” Hairspray, set in 1962 but heavily reminiscent of 2016.
“It’s one of those things where you feel lucky and blessed to be a part of it. It seems like its part of something historic; I don’t know how that is going to play out, but it does feel that way.”
With voices like J-Hud, Kristin Chenoweth – who we hear can hold a high C note like nobody can, and Ariana who we are also very privy of on the soundtrack, the show is a sure to leave some lasting impressions no matter what your preferred side of the coin is.
Speaking of J-Hud, Jennifer Hudson says that she will be a little jealous not being able to view the show with everybody else on premiere night, “I feel like it’s going to be something that we’re going to want to watch over and over again.” Hudson said it was her driving force. “I’m like, ‘guys, we just gotta keep working’. The reward is being able to look back at what we’ve done, and we get to gather around the couch and watch with our families and stuff, especially around the holiday season. I’m just excited about the whole thing.”
Fresh off the Broadway stage with her role on “The Color Purple”, Hudson alluded to the experience helping her to understand the language of theatre more. “I’m so glad for that experience because I would have been here like, ‘wait, what is going on,’” she chuckled. “To understand the process and how things are done; and I guess most of all, how much of the storytelling is in the music. Especially in a show like this because that’s why our songs are so wordy; each of our songs are like a paragraph and another paragraph; but it’s a journey in the song.” It’s a message in the song. Those are our lines; we barely speak. We say two-three lines and then all of sudden you are in song. And then the story has progressed to a whole other moment. I feel like theatre, and being on Broadway has taught me that because you are telling a story in the song. You’re interpreting it.”
J-Hud says she doesn’t want to plan too much ahead with her performances. For performance song, “Where I’ve Been”, she pronounced that the emotion required must be raw. “In this case, its nothing unfortunately I have to go back to the 60s, or talk to a great aunt or great grandma – those people that were there at that time, because we are living it. But I do think that it would be that much more impactful because of it, and that’s why I think this story is so necessary right now, today. I don’t think there’s any mistake that it’s now. It’s something that we need and I hope it’s not missed. I want it to be in the moment, as we keep saying, this is not a song, it’s so far beyond that.” Referring to the production as a movement, “It’s a message, it’s a journey. And I don’t want it to be anything too over-rehearsed, too processed; I want it to be in the moment. And just speak that truth.”
Along with classic Hairspray show-tunes, And special original song she will be collaborating on with Ariana Grande, J-Hud revealed how excited she was about the duet, “First of all, I love singing with her. I remember when they wanted us to do the song and told me about it, I remember saying, ‘I cannot wait to do this’”. She continued to say, “It’s not just Ariana and Jennifer, its Penny and Motormouth, which is a completely different thing. But it’s still telling the story, we are still within our characters, it’s just our voices. I’m just glad to be able to add that to my credit.”
Already emotional when describing why the art of music (among other things) are such uniting instruments when trying to merge different groups together, Ariana Grande shared, “It so much easier to touch people through music, through laughter, through entertainment, and silliness. I can’t sit down at a table with 18 million people and have the conversation that we are having right now. But we can sing a song and post it somewhere and hope they see it.” Point taken. “It’s our outlet, it’s what brings us together; and also what helps us speak to people. It helps me tell my fans what I want to tell them; and make them feel like, ‘hell yeah’.”
Hairspray Live!, airing on NBC on Wednesday, December 7th at 8p/9c.