The world of Tracy Turnblad (daughter of Edna and Walter Turnblad), Velma Von Tussle, Link Larkin, Corny Collins, Motormouth Maybelle and others will once again come alive when filmmaker John Waters and a cast of Broadway, film and TV stars join the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, led by Principal Pops Conductor Jack Everly, in the premiere of “Hairspray: In Concert!” Jan. 11–13, 2013, at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in downtown Indianapolis.
Waters, who wrote and directed the 1988 film “Hairspray,” on which the subsequent musical and 2007 movie remake are based, will serve as the narrator of the concert. Waters, who is also an actor, stand-up comedian, writer, journalist, visual artist and art collector, has written and directed 16 movies, including “Pink Flamingos,” “Polyester,” “Cry-Baby,” “Serial Mom” and “A Dirty Shame.”
Members of the cast include Micky Dolenz (Wilbur Turnblad), member of the 1960s made-for-television band The Monkees; Broadway star Beth Leavel (Velma Von Tussle), who won a Tony Award for “The Drowsy Chaperone”; and Paul Vogt (Edna Turnblad), who played the role of Edna in “Hairspray” on Broadway.
Recently, Waters spoke by phone with Examiner.com from his home in San Francisco, prior to his arrival in Indianapolis to rehearse for the concert.
What is the source of the narration script? Did you write it?
They sent me the script for the concert show and I wrote completely new stuff about where all the ideas for my original film came from. It’s not actually a narration, but I think it adds almost a director’s commentary to the music.
Given that you are from Baltimore, did you know Jack Everly through his capacity as Pops conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (which will present "Hairspray: The Concert" Jan. 24-27, 2013).
I had met him and he had always been figuring out a way to work with me. He came to me with this idea that was great because this work was being turned into — once again — something completely new. It’s a different version with a large orchestra doing this music. It’s the first time I have gotten into the classical music scene. Glenn Gould is my idol. It’s one of the main reasons I said yes, because I have never been involved with a symphony and you can never have too many careers, right?
Considering that so many of your films' content was considered controversial, did you ever imagine that “Hairspray” would be morphed into a symphony pops concert?
Yes, in a way. When I made “Hairspray” (the film), I was not trying to make a movie that was commercial; it just happened to be so, even though its message is the same as my other works — that outlaws win, take a chance, exaggerate your style, mind your own business and don’t judge others. It has the same exact messages as say … “Pink Flamingos” does, but it’s just told in a way that speaks to Middle America.
Throughout all of its reincarnations, why do you think “Hairspray” retained its popularity?
The fat girl fighting integration is a symbol for every kind of outsider that there possibly is. When I was growing up, nobody wanted to be an outsider; now, everybody wants to be one. I would rather be a lunatic insider than an outsider like I was for years. Tracy Turnblad stands for everybody who has possibly ever been discriminated against or bullied, and she gets revenge, she gets the guy, she wins. And so, I didn’t plan it that way, I guess I just had a good idea (laughs).
You had a fairly traditional upbringing. Had you been exposed to classical music and the symphony growing up?
Yes, my mother played the opera every Sunday on the radio — a full opera. I am a big classical music fan and, especially, an opera fan. My mother used to take me to operas at the Met and NYU in New York.
How far do you think race relations have advanced since the ‘60s, in which “Hairspray” takes place?
Obviously, we have a black president. Could there be a regular television show on which black and white teenagers slow dance together? I am not so sure.
Since the days of Divine, do you think that drag has now become mainstream?
Drag queens today are really hip. The drag queens who started the Stonewall Riots were hip too, but also real outlaws. Drag queens used to be really square when I was growing up. They wanted to be Miss America Bess Myerson, or their mother. But, I think Divine had a lot to do with drag queens today stepping up their edge. I think it’s a little misleading in “Hairspray” because the reason the character of Edna is always played by a man is because the characters don’t think she is a man. It's a secret the audience shares but the characters do not.
But, I certainly think the mainstreaming of drag is a good thing because anything that people get used to and are ready to accept … I still like a scary drag queen though. To me, I am more interested in transgendered men. That is newer and more powerful and more alarmist to the general public than drag queens today.
What would Divine, aka Glenn Milstead, make of this concert version of “Hairspray”?
I suspect that Divine would have wanted Edna’s role in the musical, the film and this concert (laughs).
Any new projects in the works?
My last book was a bestseller (“Role Models”), so I am writing a new book right now called “Carsick,” which is based on when I hitchhiked across the country last summer by myself. The actual rides I got are only a third of the book. The rest consists of my imaginings I wrote before I went on the road, of the best and the worst rides.
For tickets and information about “Hairspray: In Concert!” call (317) 639-4300 or visit www.indianapolissymphony.org.
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