Accessibility links

Award-Winning Broadway Musical 'Hairspray' Gets Travolta Make-Over


It went from a cult film classic in 1988 to the 2003 Tony Award-winning best musical on Broadway; and now, coming full circle, it is back on screen as a bright and boisterous movie musical. Alan Silverman spoke to the film's stars and director for this look at Hairspray.

Welcome to Baltimore, Maryland 1962. Coiffures are swept up high and held in place by clouds of Hairspray but more than fashion is changing, especially for one young teen named Tracy Turnblad.

Every day after school Tracy rushes home to switch on the TV for the local dance show.

Tracy knows in her heart that someday she will be dancing on the show, over the strenuous objections of her plus-sized mom, Edna.

It is the sixties and the civil rights struggle has even come to the "Corny Collins Show."

The conservative TV station owners think that the once-a-week "Negro Day" is enough, but Tracy and the other teens want black kids and white kids to dance together:

Nikki Blonsky makes her acting debut as Tracy and the 18-year-old New Yorker says it is nothing short of a dream come true.

"I saw the Broadway show when I was 15 and I was hooked," says Blonsky. " I loved it (and) I wanted to play Tracy more than anything; so to hear my own version of "Good Morning Baltimore" and to look at the soundtrack and say 'oh my gosh, I am on a soundtrack with Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah and John Travolta is just totally mind blowing."

Blonsky says being on a movie set for the first time was a frightening experience, but co-star Travolta made her feel right at home.

"I was so nervous and I remember going in the room and John stood up and he said 'come to mama.' I just hugged him and from then on it was just total connection and everything was there and I wasn't nervous any more," she says.

John Travolta plays Tracy's mama ...yes, Tracy's large mother, Edna.

"Well, wait a minute. I'm 30 years a leading man and, more than that, a kind of a macho leading man. What was it that made them think I would look good as a 300-pound woman? jokes Travolta.

Veteran action star Travolta is no stranger to musicals. At 20 he was in the touring company roadshow of the hit Grease and made his Broadway debut in 1974; but singing and dancing as a woman was a new challenge.

"The criteria was it had to be a woman. It could not be like a man dressed up as a woman and that meant big breasts, big ass, little waist and a full prosthetic where you visually believed there was no man in there," he says. "If I could do that, then I could do the acting part of it. By my ability to move and dance, I can round out a movement to be more feminine than masculine. That's just an ability. So with the help of the visual, I could add to it my character interpretation and dance movements. I knew I could add those layers."

Another veteran of musicals from earlier in his career, Christopher Walken plays Tracy's dad (and Edna's husband). The cast also features Queen Latifah as deejay 'Motor-mouth Maybelle.' Michelle Pfeiffer plays the stuffy station manager (and former beauty queen)Velma Von Tussell, with James Marsden as TV host Corny Collins Putting it all together as both director and choreographer: Adam Shankman.

at my career before I directed, this is what I've always done," Shankman says. " I choreographed eight numbers in the first two weeks. They poured out of me like it was nothing. But then making everybody feel comfortable and understanding the tone and how to experiment ...the actors who had done musicals hadn't done them in 30 years, so this was really a challenge. Everybody had to give consummate trust to me and that's what made me grow. This was going to be about my vision ...and what you see was playing out in my head."

The Hairspray screenplay by Leslie Dixon is adapted from the Broadway musical and the original John Waters film. The music and lyrics are by Marc Shaiman and Scott Witman.

XS
SM
MD
LG