NCT Brings “Hairspray” Heroine Tracy Turnblad, the Big Girl with the Big Hair, Back to the Triangle

Jennifer Foster and Jason Kappus star as Tracy Turnblad and Link Larkin in "Hairspray" (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)
Jennifer Foster and Jason Kappus star as Tracy Turnblad and Link Larkin in "Hairspray" (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

Jennifer Foster and Jason Kappus star as Tracy Turnblad and Link  Larkin in "Hairspray" (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)
Jennifer Foster and Jason Kappus star as roly-poly would-be dancer Tracy Turnblad and teen heartthrob Link Larkin in "Hairspray" (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

The North Carolina Theatre is bringing Hairspray heroine Tracy Turnblad, the big girl with the big hair and the even bigger heart played for NCT by Jennifer Foster, back to the Triangle for 10 performances on July 23 and 24th and July 26-31, plus a special Target Student Preview Night, starting at 7 p.m. on July 22nd, all in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, NC.

Set in Baltimore, MD in 1962, Hairspray features music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman and a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, based on the 1988 cult film Hairspray, written and directed by John Waters and starring actress and television talk-show hostess Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad.

“I first saw Hairspray on Broadway just after it opened,” recalls NCT guest director John Simpkins. “I have never worked on a production of the show prior to this one in North Carolina, but I have wanted to since the night I saw it in New York!”

He adds, “What I like best about Hairspray is that, even through what is essentially a fun and bubbly musical comedy, there is quite a real story and message in the piece. I wanted to have a chance to tell a story that I can believe in as a human being (equality) — but tell it in the medium of musical comedy that I love so much.

“I also like directing musicals that focus on people who don’t usually get musicals written about them,” Simpkins confesses. “The Turnblads are those people. They are not a traditional family, but they have a very important lesson for all of us from a very unlikely short, chubby girl who doesn’t see why people can’t all just dance together!”

He adds, “John Waters is famous for these kinds of things in his films — he likes to surprise people with ‘extreme behavior by people that think they’re normal.’ I think that is a perfect recipe for a hilarious musical comedy that has a wonderfully rich meaning to its story.”

Hairspray made its Broadway debut, directed by Jack O’Brien and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, on Aug. 15, 2002 at the Neil Simon Theatre, where it played for 2,642 performances before closing on Jan. 4, 2009. The show won eight 2003 Tony Awards®, including the Tonys for Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical — and begat a 2007 motion-picture version of Hairspray, directed by Adam Shankman from a screenplay by Leslie Dixon.

When the curtain rises on the 2002 musical-theater version of Hairspray, says NCT guest director John Simpkins, “It is a Monday morning in Baltimore in 1962, and Tracy Turnblad (Jennifer Foster) wakes up like any other day — ready to walk out into the city she loves. She has dreams of dancing on ‘The Corny Collins Show’ — but is seen as too overweight to be considered.

“Tracy’s mother, Edna (Dale Hensley) can relate to Tracy’s dreams — she wanted to design plus-size clothing,” Simpkins says, “but is currently laundering and ironing other people’s clothes. She tries to protect her daughter from the ridicule of the outside world — telling her that she should learn a specific skill instead of dreaming of dancing.

“Tracy doesn’t buy it — and bolstered by the confidence of her father, Wilbur (Dirk Lumbard) — she heads to the TV studio to audition for the open female dancer role,” says Simpkins. “She literally bumps into the heartthrob of the show, Link Larkin (Jason Kappus), and falls immediately in love.”

He adds, “Tracy is rejected from the audition by the show’s producer Velma (Christine Hunter), because of her weight and her views on racial equality. The following day, Tracy is sent to detention because her hair blocked the view of the chalkboard; and while in detention, she learns some new dance moves from her new African-American friend Seaweed (Donell Foreman).

“Her new dancing gets her noticed when Corny Collins (Christopher Sloan) hosts the sophomore hop,” says Simpkins. “He immediately puts her on his show, and is also impressed with her views on racial integration.

“Tracy infuriates Amber (Rhiannon Hansen), who is used to being the lead dancer and Link’s girlfriend. Amber and her mother, Velma, vow to destroy Tracy, while Corny threatens to take the show to another network if they don’t allow the show to head in a new direction,” Simpkins explains.

He adds, “Tracy and her best friend, Penny (Dana Steingold), are invited by Seaweed to a party at his mother’s record shop, where Tracy hatches a plan to integrate dancing on the show. Led by Tracy and Motormouth Maybelle (Jannie Jones), the owner of the shop, they storm the TV studio. They are all arrested as Act One comes to a close.

Simpkins says, “Act Two opens with the females all in jail; but due to Velma’s political connections, she and Amber are quickly released. Wilbur mortgages his joke shop to post bail for the others, but Tracy is kept in jail alone due to Velma’s meddling.

“Link, however, sneaks into the jail and breaks Tracy free. He gives her his council ring, and they declare their love for each other,” says John Simpkins. “They make a plan to disrupt the live primetime Corny Collins broadcast, where Wilbur wheels a giant can of hairspray onto the stage.

He adds, “Seaweed and Motormouth are disguised as guards, and pretend to eject Wilbur from the studio. Despite Tracy being a fugitive, she and Amber are neck-and-neck in the voting for Miss Teenage Hairspray. Just as Amber squeaks out a win and takes the crown, Tracy storms onto the set to dance with the entire company. She is named Miss Teenage Hairspray, and then declares the show officially integrated. Edna bursts from the giant hairspray can dressed in her finest homemade gown, and the company celebrates a new day and new step for racial equality in Baltimore.”

In addition to director John Simpkins, the North Carolina Theatre creative team for Hairspray includes producer Carolee Baxter; artistic director Casey Hushion; choreographer Josh Rhodes; musical director Nancy Whelan; technical director Bill Yates, Jr.; lighting designer ATLAS Production Lighting, Inc.; costumer Ann M. Bruskiewitz; hair/wig/makeup designer Patricia DelSordo; properties manager Aline Johnson; sound designer Brian L. Hunt; and stage manager William Alan Coats. NETworks Presentations, LLC of Columbia, MD is providing scenery, props, and costumes, which were originally designed by scenic designer David Rockwell and costume designer William Ivey Long.

Director John Simpkins says, “The set is a multilayered musical comedy experience. It involves rolling scenic pieces, flying drops, and a spectacular 1960s influenced ‘light curtain.’ It is a fluid, quickly moving show that is full of color and surprise.”

He adds, “The lighting is quite simply an explosion of musical comedy. It is bright, surprising, stylized, and dynamic. It is constantly moving and re-defining, and the light curtain adds a dimension to the show that I’ve never seen in any other musical….

“The costumes are more colorful than any I’ve seen,” says Simpkins. “They take in a wide palette of styles, shapes, and sizes. Working in the early 1960s provides so much style and fun to clothing. Add the ‘John Waters’ element, and you have a show that has no boundaries visually!”

Simpkins declares, “The biggest challenges in staging [Hairspray] are in its sheer size and scope. It travels throughout Baltimore and tries to encompass the world and perspective of the entire city. The cast and company are quite large; and all have very different ways of talking, moving, and behaving.

“In a show that tries to deal with both a racial theme and a stylistic musical comedy,” explains director John Simpkins, “the challenges are large when trying to capture the essence of all the various groups of people represented.”

SECOND OPINION: July 17th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Glenn McDonald:

The North Carolina Theatre presents HAIRSPRAY at 7 p.m. July 22 Target Student Preview Night, 8 p.m. July 23 Opening Night, 2 p.m. July 24, 8 p.m. July 26-29, 2 and 8 p.m. July 30, and 2 and 7 p.m. July 31 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $32.00-$84.50 (including fees).


NCT Box Office: 919/831-6941.

Ticketmaster: 800/745-3000 or

GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): or






NOTE 1: There will be a special $15-per-person Target Student Preview Night performance on Friday, July 22nd, starting at 7 p.m. and followed by a question-and-answer session featuring members of the cast and crew. Students and educators with ID may reserve tickets by telephoning 919/831-6941, ext. 6944, and pick them up at Will Call, starting at 6 p.m. For more information about Target Student Preview Night:

NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh ( will audio describe the 2 p.m. July 30th performance.


The 1988 Film: (Wikipedia) and (Internet Movie Database).

The 2002 Broadway Musical: (official website for the U.K. tour), (Wikipedia), and (Internet Broadway Database).

The 2007 Film: (official website) and (Internet Movie Database).

John Simpkins: (official website).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.

To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click

By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).

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