Metro Weekly

Editor’s Pick: Hairspray at The National Theatre

Nina West heads the touring cast in this exuberant, Tony-winning musical based on the film by John Waters.

Niki Metcalf and Nina West in Hairspray

This year marks exactly two decades since John Waters‘s lovable 1988 indie film about a big girl with big dreams in ’60s-era Baltimore danced its way to wild success on Broadway, courtesy of the savvy, perfectly realized musical adaptation by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

The life and creative partners won the 2003 Tony Award for Best Original Score, just one of eight total trophies racked up by the heart-warming Hairspray, including the top trophy as Best Musical and wins for the show’s director Jack O’Brien, book writers Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, and three members of the original cast, led by Harvey Fierstein, who donned drag to play the show’s leading matriarch Edna Turnblad.

“There was no gay agenda behind Edna being played by a man,” Shaiman told Metro Weekly in 2005. “First of all, it’s just there because that’s the way it was in the movie. Simple as that. And also it just becomes about accepting people no matter how odd they may seem. And something about a man playing a woman underscores that.”

Even more fundamental to effectively telling this tale, an unassuming musical comedy about the harms of racism, is the need for the cast to be racially diverse. “It’s something we’re proud about — the fact that the cast is half-Black, half-white. It’s not a Black musical. It’s not a white musical. It’s a show with a completely integrated cast. It is a real rarity.”

Leading the cast in the national touring production, currently running at Washington’s National Theatre, is Andrew Levitt, better known as Nina West, Miss Congeniality from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 11 and the drag doyenne of Columbus.

Levitt plays Edna opposite Christopher Swan as Edna’s husband Wilbur and Niki Metcalf as their daughter Tracy Turnblad, while Sandie Lee is the show’s Black matriarch Motormouth Maybelle.

Other notable cast members include Will Savarese as Tracy’s love interest Link Larkin, Emery Henderson as Tracy’s best friend Penny Pingleton, Jamonté D. Bruten as Motormouth’s son Seaweed J. Stubbs, Addison Garner as villainess Velma Von Tussle, and Kaléa Leverette as Motormouth’s daughter Little Inez.

“Our fable of ‘The Little Dancing Engine That Could’ is even more relevant than 20 years ago when it first burst onto the scene,” says director O’Brien. “With the renewed, refreshed energy of the unforgettable Nina West as Edna and a whole new generation of wildly talented kids across the board, we cannot wait to raise the various roofs once more with dance, joy, music, and that glorious, famous, energy-packed score.”

Shows are Friday, May 13, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, May 14, and Sunday, May 15, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.

The National Theatre is at 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

Tickets are $65 to $110.

Call 202-628-6161 or visit

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