Hairspray is one of the most popular musicals of the 21st century featuring hit songs such as Good Morning Baltimore and You Can’t Stop the Beat. This Saturday (21 Jan) Jeremy Joseph will be recreating early 1960s America on stage at G-A-Y with five of the cast, including Oliver Award-winner Leanne Jones as Tracy Turnblad and X Factor star Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle, performing the show’s biggest songs. Dave Cross spoke to both leading ladies about this very special show.
Hi Leanne, are you looking forward to doing Hairspray live at G-A-Y?
Definitely, I can’t wait. I am a mum at home with two kids so getting the chance to do something like this at G-A-Y is really exciting.
What can we expect on the night?
There’s going to be five of us and we will be doing most of the songs from the show.
How would you describe the character of Tracy?
When I first got the part and we started rehearsals I was told to think of her like a joyful puppy who is always running around enthusiastically and loves everyone. If you shout at her, two minutes later she bounces back. I think people identify with Tracy so much because she struggles against adversity and with people telling her what she can’t do. People tell her she can’t dance because she’s overweight or that her black friends can’t be on TV and she doesn’t accept any of that.
Segregation is at the heart of the story, isn’t it?
Yes, Tracy meets a black boy called Seaweed who is an amazing dancer but is not allowed on the Corny Collins TV show because the station won’t allow it. Tracy gets on the show and decides that she will help her black friends break the segregation.
That part of the story seems more relevant than ever right now…
It’s certainly very relevant. When the recent Hairspray Live was shown on American TV, around the time Trump became President Elect, watching Jennifer Hudson as Motormouth Maybelle singing I Know Where I’ve Been, it’s almost like she’s looking straight down the lens saying “This is now.” It was very emotional and sadly relevant.
The whole show is about fighting against bigotry and preconceptions isn’t it?
Yes, it’s very much about real people. When I was at drama school and first realised that there was a lead character like Tracy I just thought it was so exciting. Not only is she smart and funny, but she gets the guy, and that never normally happens for big girls or boys. It’s a fantastic role and I love playing her.
Hello Brenda, are you excited about Hairspray Live at G-A-Y?
Absolutely, I’m excited about both doing Hairspray and about being back at G-A-Y because I haven’t been there for a while.
How many times have you been there?
I think about five or six times. The first time was just after X Factor and I went there with Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne. It was totally manic and crazy but such a warm reception and it always is. I love it there and can’t wait for Saturday.
Have you worked out what you guys are doing on Saturday yet?
Yes, we have, but I’m not going to tell you exactly, I’d rather leave it as a surprise, but it will be the songs you want to hear.
Tell us about Motormouth Maybell.
She’s Seaweed’s mother and runs a record store. She’s a very down to earth character who people can come to with their problems; she’s there for everyone. She has a big heart and she’s the voice of reason.
She’s at the heart of the segregation story, which does seem poignant right now, doesn’t it?
When I was doing the show last year I had loads of people saying the same thing. I think the show is about no matter what your colour or your size or who you love, we all need to come together and realise that we are all one race and we are stronger together. It is scary what’s happening right now and I think we are in frightening times with Trump etc. There seems to be a lot anger and it seems to have happened all of a sudden.
Maybell has the most poignant song in the show I Know Where I’ve Been…
Yes, it is a beautiful song that is very relevant today and that song has meant a lot to me personally as well. I think Hairspray does have such an important message about being excepting and just getting on with each other and also it is a great uplifting story with amazing music.
And you are going back to the show later in the year aren’t you?
Yes, I am. I’ve got something exciting happening soon which I can’t talk about yet, but yes, I’m back in the UK tour of the show later in the year.