It was a surprise, a shock really, when John Waters released the film “Hairspray” in 1988.
At that point, Waters was known as a provocateur and transgressive filmmaker behind outrageous cult films, such as “Pink Flamingos” and “Polyester.” What was he doing making a PG-rated, big-haired, cotton candy-colored ode to the 1960s?
Creating an enduring story that continues to entertain audiences nearly 35 years later, it turns out.
“Hairspray” the movie became “Hairspray” the musical in 2002 (and “Hairspray” the movie again in 2007). The musical won the Tony Award for best musical and ran for more than six years on Broadway.
The story tracks from movie to musical – set in 1962 Baltimore, “Hairspray” is the story of Tracy Turnblad, a plus-size girl whose big dream is to dance on the “The Corny Collins Show,” the local TV equivalent of “American Bandstand.” When she gets a spot, she uses her position to help integrate the show. Along the way, she helps her shy, overweight mother, Edna, find the self-confidence to leave the house and finds love with teenage heartthrob Link Larkin.
The Broadway musical is celebrating its 20th year with a tour that lands in Spokane’s First Interstate Center for the Arts on Tuesday as part of the STCU Best of Broadway series.
Ralph Prentice Daniel, who plays Tracy’s father, Wilbur, said the show’s charms are plentiful and are what keep people coming back.
“It’s such an incredible story, and it’s still relevant today,” Daniel said. “It’s a show of acceptance and love and kindness and family, which are all the things I believe in. It’s a beautiful story to tell the world right now, to keep uplifting people, and trying to reach a goal in life where everyone really can just be accepted and loved and be who they want to be.”
He’s a new addition to the tour, but he’s joining a couple of leads who have been with it from the beginning – Niki Metcalf as Tracy and Andrew Levitt as Edna.
Edna Turnblad always is portrayed by a man in drag, including the late drag icon Divine and John Travolta in the film versions, and Harvey Fierstein in the original Broadway cast. Levitt has been performing as the drag queen Nina West since 2001; he competed on Season 11 of “Ru Paul’s Drag Race,” being named Miss Congeniality.
“Andrew is a phenomenal person and actor. He’s so giving on stage, and helpful, because I’m his second Wilbur coming into it. It’s just like I’m his first Wilbur. He has embraced that,” Daniel said. “We have great chemistry on stage and off. It is a blessing to work side by side with someone like that who has this beautiful energy and you can create together and share the art. I’m extremely lucky.”
While Daniel loves does his duet with Levitt, on “(You’re) Timeless to Me,” one of the highlights of the show each night is “I Know Where I’ve Been,” sung by Motormouth Maybelle, played on tour by Sandie Lee.
“It’s a fabulous, fabulous piece. It gets you in the heart, because the inequality faced by people of color. That song, it gets you,” he said. “And it stops you and it makes you think and it’s beautifully sung. She is a fantastic singer.”
While “Hairspray” has been staged locally over the years, it’s been awhile since the tour last came through, in 2007. For fans who haven’t seen the musical, but have seen either of the movies, they’ll be prepared for the vivid, upbeat, bouffant-ed spectacle.
“There are so many similarities in it. They just kind of kept it consistent,” Daniel said. “And a lot of things from the movie is timeless and people are looking to see those things, so they brought it into the show.”