by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & J & lt;/span & ohn Waters' Hairspray -- wasn't that the movie with Ricki Lake and Divine? But the musical stage version (which premiered in Seattle before becoming a Broadway hit) is different, placing more emphasis on its themes of confronting conformity and undermining segregation in 1962 Baltimore.
Oh, there's a lot of dancing and big hair, too. The current national tour (at the INB Center, Jan. 2-7) stars Brooklynn Pulver as Tracy Turnblad, the girl who helps achieve social change even though all she wants to do is shimmy.
This is your first national tour, and you got the starring role. Tracy also has to audition for a part on "The Corny Collins Show." What were your auditions like?
I was at the initial audition -- it was an open call in New York, and I waited for five and half hours in the rain after taking a red eye from Salt Lake City. [Pulver was raised "in a traditional LDS home."] Then I had several callbacks and several flights to New York. It was a very expensive process. It was tough, and there were times that I was down, but there were also times when I thought, 'This is completely achievable. and if these producers wait any longer to cast me, I'm going get all wrinkly and be too old for this role.' [Pulver, 26, is playing a 16-year-old.]
A lot of Hairspray is about mother-daughter relationships. How do you get along with your own mother?
She's a very proud mama. I'm not gonna lie -- this is what she does: She carries all my reviews in her purse. My dad says they'll go out to dinner, and they'll be talking with friends -- or even to people they don't even know -- and all of a sudden my mother is all, 'My daughter is on the national tour of Hairspray, and I've got pictures!'"
We're all just dying to know what brand of hairspray you use.
We use good old-fashioned Aquanet. And I am very fortunate to have my dresser Emily and Tami, who is my wig gal. They blot my face and make sure I am minty-fresh so that when I sing in people's faces, they aren't blown away with halitosis.
Whose dancing have you studied on tape? Did you watch any American Bandstand?
The cast watched a documentary about the evolution of dance from the '50s to the '60s and how integration contributed to the 'dirty boogie.'
Can you teach me some dance moves used in the show, like the Stricken Chicken or the Mashed Potatoes?
Well, the Stricken Chicken actually happens in a scene when I'm watching TV. But I dance throughout the show. Do you want to learn the Pony? [Here's just a portion of how the Pony is explained in the Hairspray press kit: "Kick, kick, shuffle backwards. Left coaster step, step, turn. Angle body slightly to left. Cross, pony steps. Forward jazz jump, clap. End with sailor shuffles."] OK, rhythmically, it's one-two-one, one-two-one. You put your right foot down, and then pick your left leg up so that all your weight is on your right leg. Then we do what we call a ball change. You know what a ball change is, right?
I'm afraid I do.
And then it's left, right, left, right ... and when you add arms into it, your opposite arm is going up when your leg is going down.
Sure, got it. [I didn't have it. Pulver was in a hotel in Tampa, Fla., and I was in my kitchen, trying to dance and type at the same time.]
Is there any reason that the part of Tracy's mother, Edna Turnblad, is played by a man? Or did it just evolve that way?
I think it is the John Waters way. In honor of Divine, the role will probably always be played by a man. And it looks great onstage: A big man standing next to Tracy -- who is a 'big girl' herself -- just makes Edna all the more "larger than life." [In next year's movie, the part of Edna will be played by John Travolta.]
Since Tracy is a big girl, are you contractually obligated to remain, as Edna might say, "at [your] current weight"?
I am strongly encouraged to maintain my girlish figure. This role is definitely active, but I also have an appetite, and I love food and treats -- like I always say, 'Fat girl gotta eat.' My body has fluctuated around a size 16 for the past 10 years. That is just where it wants to be, and I am glad there is such a fantastic role for a girl who looks like me. I am having the time of my life.
Are fattists as bad as racists?
We all have a little bit of prejudice within us. Skinny people are picked on just as much as fat people. Or a different race, or because they're from someplace different. In some way, everybody has been discriminated against. We're all underdogs. The show's message is that we all need to be a little more open-minded.
Are you more open now to nonconformity and outlandish behavior?
Not as a result of being in this show, no. Even back in elementary school, I knew how to be one of the popular girls, but I wasn't really being nice -- though I was in the eyes of adults. It's embarrassing, but maybe I wasn't very giving of myself. I was pressured into doing things. But I got interested in theater, and ironically, that's how I got my life back on track.
So you were like Amber Von Tussle in the show?
Yeah, a little like Amber. But I also remember deciding to change my ways. So I got in a new group of similar-minded people, more uplifting people.
And the group of people you're with now -- how long have you been on tour?
We started with a seven-week sit-down production in Atlantic City -- just a 90-minute version, which opened in July. But this tour officially started in September.
And you go until?
We'll end in August, in Japan.
So I guess it doesn't sound all that exciting to come to Spokane, Washington.
No, actually I am excited about going to Spokane, because I have a bunch of friends who live there -- well, not in it, exactly, but fairly close.
It'll be a regular Brooklynn Pulver fan club. Will they all be in bouffants and beehives?
I've asked them not to. But then they have minds of their own.
Hairspray plays on Tuesday-Thursday, Jan. 2-4, at 7:30 pm; on Friday, Jan. 5, at 8 pm; on Saturday, Jan. 6, at 2 pm and 8 pm; and on Sunday, Jan. 7, at 1 pm and 6:30 pm. Tickets: $30-$65. Visit www.bestofbroadwayspokane.com or call 325-SEAT.
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