Thursday, July 19, 2018
TV and Media

NBC's 'Hairspray Live' airs Wednesday, feeling relevant as ever

It sounds like the stars of Hairspray Live will need a full emergency room team waiting in the wings when the ambitious TV version of the Broadway musical airs on NBC.

Leading lady Maddie Baillio, an effervescent Texas native who beat out nearly 1,000 other actors for the role of Tracy Turnblad, evidently has respiratory issues.

"The most difficult song in the show is without a doubt You Can't Stop the Beat," Baillio says of the show-stopping finale. "We call it You Can't Stop to Breathe because you cannot stop at all to breathe. There's so much dancing and singing. It's hard to do that at the same time when it's really fast."

Meanwhile, pop star Ariana Grande, who plays Tracy's best friend, Penny Pingleton, evidently has a cardiac condition.

"To be in this cast is a huge pinch-me moment for me," Grande says. "I have a little heart attack every time Harvey Fierstein is sitting next to me and I hear him speak. It's just so exciting."

And Broadway superstar Kristin Chenoweth, who plays villainous Velma Von Tussle, is confident that her heart can take it, but she's concerned about cracking her head open during a fall on live TV.

"I'm very much a klutz," Chenoweth says. "People that know me know that about me. What I want to do is get out of this alive without falling in a hole, tripping over a wire or falling on my hair. If I can do that, I'm good."

Probably none of these disasters will happen when Hairspray Live, which also features St. Petersburg native Ephraim Sykes, airs at 7 p.m. Wednesday. But you know what they say about live television: Anything can happen.

"The live aspect of this is the greatest part," Grande says. "Not everyone gets the chance to experience the magic of live theater, of Broadway, of musicals — and this is bringing that Broadway energy to your living room, which is so genius and so special."

Hairspray, the story of a "pleasantly plump" teen who's determined to achieve stardom as a dancer on a Baltimore TV show in the 1960s, originated in 1988 as a feature film directed by John Waters. The movie starred Ricki Lake as Tracy, Divine as Tracy's plus-sized mother and Debbie Harry as Velma.

Then came a Broadway musical version in 2002 that won eight Tony Awards, including best musical, best performance by a leading actor (Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad) and best performance by a leading actress (Marissa Jaret Winokur as Tracy).

Then in 2007 came a movie version of the musical with John Travolta in drag as Edna.

"But this is Hairspray like you've never seen it before," Baillio promises. "This isn't any of the movies. We're creating a whole new Hairspray and it's going to be really, really exciting. It won't just be inside on a stage. We're also on the back lot and I'll be doing songs like Welcome to the ’60s and Good Morning, Baltimore (the show's opening number) outside, so it will be like I'm really in Baltimore."

Even though the story is set in the 1960s and the original musical was produced in the 2002, Baillio feels that Hairspray (in which Tracy uses her newfound fame to combat racial segregation) is, in many ways, timeless.

"There are a lot of themes that are just as relevant today as they would have been in the 1960s," she says. "With all the racism in the world and with the current body-positivity movement, this is just a perfect time for Hairspray to make its rounds again. So I hope if someone's flipping through the channels, even if they don't watch musicals that often, they'll stop and watch and hopefully get a great message from this show."

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Updated: 07/14/18