Can a big girl with big dreams – and even bigger hair – change the world?
It’s 16-year-old Tracy Turnblad’s unwitting mission to 1960s Baltimore that’s mostly determined – despite being an outsider, outside the norm when it comes to her looks and against opposition from the traditionalists – to become the most popular dance show for teenagers.
The touring musical, on stage (courtesy Celebrity Attractions) for four performances Friday through Sunday at Little Rock’s Robinson Center Performance Hall, features music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman and a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, based on the New Line Cinema film written and directed by John Waters, who served as creative consultant on the show.
Niki Metcalf plays Tracy, with Andrew Levitt – aka Nina West (from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”) – playing the drag role of her mother, Edna Turnblad. Billy Dawson plays TV host Corny Collins, with Will Savarese as Link Larkin, Emery Henderson as Penny Pingleton, Brandon G. Stalling as Seaweed J. Stubbs, Christopher Swan as Wilbur Turnblad, Kalea Leverette as Little Inez, Kaelee Albritton as Amber Von Tussle and Addison Garner as Amber’s ambitious mother, Velma Von Tussle.
Garner agrees that Velma is a villain, insofar as “Hairspray” has a villain.
“I’ve been compared to Cruella de Vil,” she laughs. “The villain you love to hate. She’s racist and anti-change.”
Above all, what Velma wants to do is make sure her daughter, Amber, succeeds like she did. “Velma will do everything so that her daughter comes out a winner,” she explains.
Velma relives her own glory years in a musical number about winning the Miss Baltimore Crabs pageant, in which Garner can show off a special talent: twirling batons.
“I was a cheerleader in high school,” she explains.
And partly because it mirrors a lyric from the song (“Oh, you should have seen my bag of tricks! Oh, I took to the stage, batons on fire, while singing ‘Aida’ and making soufflés !”), choreographer Jerry Mitchell incorporated it. in the number.
The batons aren’t ignited, of course — theaters these days have safety rules, and, Garner admits, it would be scary every night for members of the live orchestra in the pit.
Still, “it’s a fun little trick to get out of my sleeve,” she says. “And it gives my mother a heart attack.”
Garner is a Southerner – from Alabama, not Baltimore – and once played Velma, aboard a ship for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. “It’s wonderful to be able to come back to a role that I love,” she says.
The national tour was originally in the works for spring 2020, before the pandemic halted not just national touring, but live theater in general.
“They reached [back] in the spring of 2021,” says Garner, for a virtual recall process. Rehearsals began in October in New York and the tour hit the road the first week of November.
Garner does the traditional eight shows a week; at the start of the tour, she says, they were doing week-long and even two-week sit-downs; after Christmas, however, there have been mostly split weeks – four shows in one city, four shows in the next – and the tour is reaching the point where they will be doing small town nights before ending on July 3.
“‘Hairspray’ has always been special to me and my family,” Garner said. “We appreciate everything about the show, especially its message.
“Especially coming out of Covid, it’s great to have consistent work. And a national tour – I’ve been dreaming about that for a very long time.”
- What: Touring musical based on the New Line Cinema film about a teenage girl who struggles to dance to the most popular TV show of the 60s in Baltimore.
- When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday
- Or: Robinson Center Performance Hall, 426 W. Markham St. at Broadway, Little Rock
- Presenter: Celebrity Attractions
- Tickets: $36-$79
- Information: (501) 244-8800; CelebrityAttractions.com; Ticketmaster.com