'Hairspray Live!' Cast Explains Why 'The Timing Is Right to Deliver a Message Like This'

Billboard

After the success of NBC's The Wiz Live! and Fox's Grease Live!, Emmy-winning live television director Alex Rudzinski and Tony-winning director Kenny Leon are teaming up to bring audiences Hairspray Live!, the 1960s-set musical that remains relevant in 2016. With an all-star cast including Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson, Hairspray Live! aims to bring families across the nation together Dec. 7 on NBC.

Grande -- who plays Penny Pingleton -- is no stranger to the world of musicals, given her role as Charlotte in the 2008 Broadway production 13. "I think that not actually a lot of people know that that's where I started and it's such a weird thing for me," the singer told Billboard last week. "People know me as this shiny pop thing and I'm the biggest theater nerd of all time."


Hudson, also a Broadway vet, takes on the role of Motormouth Maybelle and will team up with Grande on the duet "Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)" for the finale. "I am so excited about that song. When I found out we were going to do it, I could not wait to do it," Hudson told Billboard. "We've done the recording, but we haven't done the production of it yet to see what we will be doing in that moment -- it's an energetic song and I just like that song. It was fun to record, especially with [Ariana] because I love her."

Following the 2007 movie musical, starring Zac Efron, Queen Latifah and Nikki Blonsky, Hairspray Live! is set to bring a new hybrid element of Broadway and onscreen theatrics that will pay tribute to the many adaptations of the story, including special guest cameos from the original women who played Tracy Turnblad: Ricki Lake, star of the 1988 movie, and Tony Award winner Marissa Jaret  Winokur, who starred in the original 2002 Broadway production.

For newcomer Maddie Baillio, being cast as Tracy Turnblad after such huge names -- including Lake and Winokur -- was an absolute dream. "Tracy was one of my biggest dream roles -- I wasn't fully Tracy until that first moment that I put on the wig. It was like a light bulb turned on and I was no longer Maddie but I was Tracy, the ultimate optimist and the ultimate underdog," Baillio told Billboard. "Everyone can relate to her, and I'm so glad I could represent that for everyone."


While the cast includes multiple generations and backgrounds, one thing they can agree on is how much this musical adaptation relates to the current political climate in America. "I think the timing is right to be able to deliver a message like this," Hudson told Billboard. "That's why a story like Hairspray is still around, because it is speaking of real things, and real things are timeless. I hope that this will continue to make a change through art."

Baillio adds: "I hope that maybe someone who is flipping through the channels and they stop on Hairspray -- If they don't believe in equality for all and they don't have a lot of love in their hearts, I hope we can change the world and change their minds."

Tune in to Hairspray Live! on Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 8 p.m. ET on NBC, and catch stars Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hayes on the "Countdown to Hairspray Live!" before the live broadcast at 7:30 p.m. ET.