Becoming the 'Timeless' Mother Daughter Duos in Skylight’s ‘Hairspray’
Because 'Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now'
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: Tommy Novak (Edna Turnblad) and Maisie Rose (Tracy Turnblad). Photo by Ross Zenter.
Tommy Novak’s childhood friends once told the veteran performer that their acting career wouldn’t feel real, “until you play the mom in Hairspray.”
“After they said that I bought the album, and listened to it and thought, ‘wait, this is played by a man in a dress? Awesome,” Novak recalls. Novak was previously seen in Skylight’s 2016 holiday show La Cage Aux Folles as Francis.They more recently spent the summer in China touring with a production of Seussical, playing Horton the Elephant for the 10th time.
Novak will rock high heels, big hair and shimmery dresses for 40 performances as the iconic Edna Turnblad, made famous by Harvey Fierstein and John Travolta, in Skylight Music Theatre’s holiday production of Hairspray. And yes, Novak’s childhood friends will be in attendance for opening weekend.
Tommy Novak (Edna Turnblad). Photo by Ross Zentner.
The original Hairspray film, written and directed by John Waters, premiered in 1988, inspiring a hit Broadway musical in 2002, a 2007 movie remake starring Zac Efron and John Travolta, and a live TV broadcast in 2016, with yet another star-studded line up including Jennifer Hudson and Ariana Grande.
Waters based his film off of The Buddy Deane Show, a Baltimore teen song and dance program that aired in the 1960s, and was ultimately cancelled for refusing to integrate.
In Hairspray, lovable plus-sized teen Tracy Turnblad (Maisie Rose) auditions and earns a spot on The Corny Collins Show, catching the attention of the show’s heartthrob Link Larkin (Colin Schreier) and ruffling the feathers of queen bee Amber Von Tussle (Amber Smith), along with her intense mother and the show’s producer Velma Von Tussle (Samantha Sostarich). Frustrated by the fact that the black kids only get to dance once a month on “Negro Day,” Tracy leads an impressive effort to end her town’s racial segregation.
Colin Schreier (Link Larkin), Gilbert Domally (Seaweed J. Stubbs), Maisie Rose (Tracy Turnblad), Tommy Novak (Edna Turnblad), Lili-Anne Brown (Stage Director) and Bethany Thomas (Motormouth Maybelle), share a laugh after photo call for Hairspray. Photo by Ross Zentner.
“There is space for everyone in this world regardless of shapes, sizes and colors and we need to remember that,” Novak explains. “Every number in this show ends up relating back to this message.”
The mother daughter relationships between protagonists Edna and Tracy, as well as antagonists Amber and Velma, are also at the forefront of the show. Edna works at home laundering clothes and never leaves the house due to her body insecurity. This causes her to be protective of Tracy, out of fear for how the outside world will treat her.
“Edna is simultaneously Tracy’s harshest critic and biggest supporter,” Rose says. “I think this production is doing a really great job of grounding ourselves in these specific people that we have. Nobody is playing on the stereotype that exists there already.”
As the show's villians, Sostarich describes Velma as a pageant mother ready to “lie, steal and cheat” if it means getting her daughter what she wants. This ultimate stage mom also gets a moment to celebrate her own crown-wearing glory days in the musical number “Miss Baltimore Crabs.”
Samantha Sostarich (Velma Von Tussle) and Amber Smith (Amber Von Tussle). Photo by Ross Zentner.
In a fun twist, Sostarich and Smith are nearly the same age, despite portraying mother and daughter on stage.
“It’s not until we are off stage that we are like oh yeah, wait…,” Smith jokes. “To get into character I think about how annoying I was as a teenager and play off of all those things. I think about whenever I was bratty to my mom and stomping my feet. This teenage behavior hasn’t changed, it’s relevant no matter what time frame we are talking about.”
Seventeen teenagers singing and dancing will also join the adult performers on stage. Rose says working with these talented teens serves as a great reminder to where her energy should be throughout the show.
“I would say Tracy operates at a 10 at all times, a 10 minimum. When she’s excited she goes up to a 22,” Rose says. “It’s a nice comparison to see people who are the actual age of the characters we are portraying, because they really do operate at a 10 at all times.”
Hairspray, presented by Skylight Music Theatre, runs Nov. 16 – Dec. 30 at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway. For tickets, visit skylightmusictheatre.org or call the box office at (414) 291-7800.