There are few
people more familiar with Hairspray than composer
Marc Shaiman--after all, he spent years of his life
turning the John Waters classic into a Broadway
musical. Still, as he scored music for the upcoming
movie version, even he found moments that surprised him.
point I just suddenly stopped and stared at the screen on my
computer and I said, 'That's John Travolta in
a dress, and he's singing a lyric about
Christmas ham!' " laughs Shaiman, one of
Hairspray's many out behind-the-scenes
talents. "It's just surreal."
doesn't begin to describe the image of this erstwhile
Wild Hog donning latex and a wig to play a role
previously inhabited by such actors as Divine, Harvey
Fierstein, and Bruce Vilanch. Though the idea of
Travolta as full-figured housewife Edna Turnblad seems
unlikely, director Adam Shankman says the actor was
more concerned with overcoming the specter of Grease.
starred in the biggest musical film in history--Danny
Zuko is this iconic figure--and he didn't
know how he was going to top that," says
Shankman, who's also gay. " So I said,
'I know how you're going to top that:
You play a woman.' And I think that appealed to him
as an actor."
"He's done a lot of things that
nobody's done before with the role, insofar as
his conception of her as being a real woman with some sort
of sexuality as opposed to the shapelessness of the
Ednas prior," says producer Neil Meron.
"They were in caftans and muumuus, and John
specifically said, 'I want cleavage; I want to show a
waist; I want to show that this woman still has some
sense of womanliness left in
we weren't in front of the camera, it was interesting
to see how he'd transformed himself into this
woman," says actor James Marsden, who plays TV
dance-show host Corny Collins. "He wasn't
playing a drag queen--he was playing a woman. We
were all sort of mouths agape when we first saw
affected a distinctive Baltimore accent, something no
previous Edna had attempted.
started with [the accent], a lot of us on the movie said,
'Uh-oh,' " recalls Shaiman. "But
he just said, 'Trust me, this is my
Edna.' He said that Quentin Tarantino sat him down
when they started filming Pulp Fiction and
said, 'I'm not sure exactly about how
you're playing this.' And John said,
'Believe me, when you cut it all together,
it'll be right.' He said the same thing to us,
and he was completely right."
Travolta's elaborate latex makeup hews closer to
Eddie Murphy than to Divine, "it has to be
believable in a close-up," says Scott Wittman,
another of Hairspray's gay talents, who
collaborated with Shaiman on the lyrics. "Most
of the people who played this role did it in
Zadan maintains that this Edna, despite her differences,
still falls in line with John Waters's original
vision. "He was thrilled that it wasn't
going to be the Edna from his movie," Zadan says,
"and he was thrilled that it wasn't
going to be the Edna from Broadway. As John Waters
said, it's great that each person who played Edna has
played it in their own, different way."
For more summer
movies and more on Hairspray, get the May 22, 2007
issue of The Advocate.