NBC's latest live musical, Hairspray Live!, airs on Wednesday night, and it's sure to be a dazzling trip to Baltimore in 1962. The NBC version is filled with many familiar faces, including pop star Ariana Grande, Kristin Chenoweth, Jennifer Hudson, Derek Hough, and Martin Short. But who plays Tracy's mom in Hairspray Live!? You'll notice that the actor who plays Edna Turnblad looks very familiar under that makeup, because it's Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein. And this isn't the 62-year-old actor and writer's first time stepping into Edna's shoes.
Fierstein won his second Tony Award for playing Edna in the original Broadway production of Hairspray in 2002, which was based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name. This time around, Fierstein will play mom to newcomer Maddie Baillio's Tracy Turnblad, an enthusiastic teen with big dreams of appearing on — and racially integrating — The Corny Collins Show, a local TV variety series. In contrast, Edna is shy and mostly housebound, but she eventually emerges to embrace the '60s and have several show-stopping songs like "(You're) Timeless To Me" with husband Wilbur and the ensemble finale "You Can't Stop The Beat."
And Fierstein didn't mind reprising his famous role, which was a different experience than when he played Edna on Broadway, according to The Sioux City Journal. "Different people make it different for you,” he told the newspaper.
Fierstein is also involved with Hairspray Live! behind the scenes. The playwright also adapted the script for the live NBC version — a job that Fierstein has done before for the musical. In an interview with Theater Mania, he said that he was also an uncredited writer on the original Hairspray script, and has since penned adaptations of the show when it was performed in Las Vegas and the Hollywood Bowl. Fierstein also wrote the teleplay for last year's The Wiz Live! on NBC, according to The Chicago Tribune.
“It’s not that I wanted to update [Hairspray] — because it’s 1962 and I don’t want to [mess] with that,” Fierstein told the publication. “But I wanted to feel more of the story from the black side. The story that John Waters so brilliantly told, but he did tell it from the white side. That’s where [director] Kenny Leon helped in bringing the tone and soul to it.”
In addition to Hairspray Live!, Fierstein has written the books for the Broadway musicals Kinky Boots (for which he won a Tony in 2013), Newsies, A Catered Affair, and La Cage aux Folles. He also wrote the play Torch Song Trilogy, for which he won a Tony for Best Play and Best Actor in a Play in 1982. In 2008, Fierstein was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
It sounds like viewers will be treated to another legendary performance of Fierstein as he repises Edna in Hairspray Live!
Images: Colleen Hayes, Trae Patton/NBC