Nikki Blonsky was like every other aspiring actress.
The 18-year-old from Great Neck, N.Y., performed in local stage productions, took any part she could, and held down a part-time job after school — in her case at an ice cream parlour — to make some extra cash as she dreamed of stardom.
That was until she auditioned to play the role of Tracy Turnblad in the big-screen adaptation of the musical Hairspray, itself adapted from John Waters’ 1988 cult hit.
When camera crews burst into the shop to notify Blonsky that she had the big-haired part as Tracy, her life changed instantly and the teen was suddenly thrust into a media and celebrity whirlwind.
“Every day I wake up and I go is this really real? I’m so scared somebody’s going to wake me up some day and go, you’ve just been in a really big dream and glad you finally woke up a year later,” Blonsky says. “It’s just unbelievable. There’s no way that this can be real.”
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Directed and choreographed by former dancer and actor Adam Shankman (A Walk To Remember, Cheaper By The Dozen 2), Hairspray stars John Travolta as Tracy’s mother Edna, Christopher Walken as dad Wilbur, Amanda Bynes as her friend Penny Pingleton, Michelle Pfeiffer as the very nasty Velma Von Tussle and Elijah Kelley (Take The Lead) as Seaweed J. Stubbs.
Fans of the stage production will already be familiar with the Hairspray storyline of Tracy’s drive to earn a spot on the early-1960s dance program The Corny Collins Show. When she faces resistance from station manager Von Tussle, the eager teen wows audiences with her moves and becomes a regular. But when Tracy attempts to racially integrate the all-white show, her dream of TV stardom begins to crumble.
“Everyone wants to do something whether they follow through with it, who knows,” Blonsky says. “That’s the message of Hairspray, just follow your dream. Anything can happen. It doesn’t matter what size you are or how tall you are.”
It’s a statement to which Blonsky can personally attest.
As director Shankman points out, it was the teen’s sheer enthusiasm and tenacity which eventually won her the lead role in Hairspray.
“When I saw her audition, I was so drawn in and it was not a fully formed performance, but in her heart and soul she was Tracy so I just said you guys, she’s perfect,” Shankman recalls.
“She’s from nowhere, she’s from a working class family, she works in an ice cream store, she’s a 17-year-old plus size girl who will do anything to get out there and perform. So why not cast her as a working class 17-year-old girl who wants to perform?”
Fans of the genre will undoubtedly notice the recent resurgence in the film musical with the success of films such as Moulin Rouge, Chicago and Dreamgirls, after years of audiences turning their noses at the implausible notion of people breaking into song and dance at a moment’s notice.
Shankman makes no apologies for his take on Hairspray. This is a full-on musical in the tradition of West Side Story, Easter Parade and Singin’ In The Rain.
“It’s all based on how Tracy Turnblad sees the world, through song and dance,” Shankman says.
“It’s not gimmicky, but there’s definitely a break-into-song reality. But for whatever reason audiences are not rejecting it on this one. I think there’s a cynicism that really pushed musicals back down and that shell seems to be cracking.”
- Hairspray opens in theatres today.