Studio: New Line Cinema
Director: Adam Shankman
Screenwriter: Leslie Dixon
Starring: John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer
Genre: Comedy, Musical
MPAA Rating: PG
The story of Hairspray’s genesis begins in 1988, when filmmaker John Waters and New Line Cinema released the original Hairspray. Like his prior films, including Pink Flamingos and Polyester, Hairspray was written, directed and produced by Waters and quickly became another comedy cult classic. The film starred newcomer Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad, the titular Divine (née Glen Milstead) as her loving mother, Edna, and veteran actor Jerry Stiller as her father, Wilbur. This was a story that only John Waters could have told (and cast) in his own inimitable way.
“I wrote it on my bed in my kind of slummy apartment in Baltimore,” says Waters. “I lived a lot of this movie growing up in Baltimore in the early ‘60s. I used to watch the local TV teen dance show, “The Buddy Dean Show,” and even was on it once. I, like all the other white kids, was listening to the black music back then. We had three black radio stations.”
“John really lived the coming together of those two cultures in Baltimore,” says Jerry Stiller, who now portrays Mr. Pinky, the owner of the Hefty Hideaway, a dress shop with “Quality Clothes for Quantity Gals” in the new version of the film.
“The result was a story that could have only come from his uniquely crazy personality and perspective on life,” says Stiller, whose children, Amy and Ben, urged him to take the role of Wilbur Turnblad in the 1988 film. “John has no limits or restrictions when it comes to his sense of humor, and that is his brilliance as a filmmaker. His vision of life in 1962 Baltimore may be a bit twisted, but you can’t deny the fact that it’s incredibly funny.”
Waters explains that his film is actually a white person’s perspective (as seen through the eyes of teenager Tracy Turnblad) of the integration movement. “I think my movie resonated with people because it was really funny but socially redeeming without being preachy. The biggest difference, no pun intended, was that on the real Buddy Dean show, there was never a fat girl. So that’s where the character of Tracy came from. To me, Tracy, the fat girl, basically represented every outsider, and her dream to dance on The Corny Collins Show represented the dreams of anyone facing discrimination of any kind.”
The dreams of Tracy Turnblad did not end with the final box office tally for Waters’ 1988 film. In 2002, New Line debuted “Hairspray: The Musical,” the smash hit Broadway adaptation of Waters’ cult classic film. Written by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, “Hairspray: The Musical” was nominated for 13 Tony Awards and won eight, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score (Music and Lyrics), Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Harvey Fierstein), Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Marissa Jaret Winokur), Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Dick Latessa), Best Costume Design (William Ivey Long) and Best Direction of a Musical (Jack O’Brien).
The show continues to attract audiences to Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre and to road productions all over North America thanks to its catchy music, likeable characters, underdog/outsider themes and comedy which have struck a chord with audiences of all ages. The show is also expanding internationally with a 2-week run in Japan in July 2007 and a London opening in October 2007.
For the original Tracy Turnblad, Ricki Lake (who, like Waters and Jerry Stiller, appears in a cameo role in the new film), John Waters’ movie is a Cinderella story not only in terms of its themes but for her personally as well.
“It was actually a little overwhelming to be on set in Toronto on the day I did my cameo,” Lake recalls. “I mean, it was 19 years ago when we made the original. It’s surreal to think that I am actually old enough to be the new Tracy’s mother! Seriously, I think the story is still relevant today…you know, the ideas of tolerance and acceptance and inclusion. And I love the idea of the underdog winning. It’s such a positive story about being true to yourself and if you can do that, then your dreams can come true. Like mine did. Being in the original opened every door for me, and I’m eternally grateful to John Waters for discovering me and plucking me from obscurity and making me a star. In a lot of ways, Nikki Blonsky is wearing the shoes that I filled so long ago, and may she have as long and as lovely a career as I have had.”
Production notes, photos and promotional video © 2007 New Line Cinema.