John Waters, Hairspray, Edna Turnblad and so on

Saturday 18 August 2007

Andrew has been desperate to know what John Waters thinks of the casting of Michael Ball as Edna Turnblad in the forthcoming London production of Hairspray.

But his phone calls having been ignored he was forced to drop in to the NFT (the Whingers will refuse to called it the BFI Southbank even until their dying days) last night avec entourage to ambush Waters as he took part in an “in conversation” plus a preview of his new film This Filthy World (confusingly billed as part of “The Stanley Kubrick Masterclass series” whatever that is).

Andrew’s train of thought had been prompted by a recent article in Variety (the Whingers love Variety because it persists in calling its theatre section “Legit” which makes them laugh so much they buy it every week). In it, Waters gives his appraisal of the men who have played Edna so far.

The model for all Ednas is, of course, Divine:

The first day on the set of “Hairspray,” I didn’t recognize him. I thought it was another neighborhood woman watching the shoot. We were filming in East Baltimore, and all the housewives were talking to him. Divine looked normal, not weird… If there’s a template, that’s it.

And he is clearly thrilled with Blake Hammond who

… played the Male Authority Figure (Prison Guard/High School Principal) on the road, and then he played Edna on Broadway. I love it when someone claws their way up from the man’s part to play the female lead. That is beyond any kind of behind-the-scenes backstage Broadway story I’ve ever seen.

It’s all very interesting but there’s no clue as to whether Waters approves of Ball or even knows who he is. Andrew was determined to fill in the blanks.

But before he could ask his interesting question there was This Filthy World which is essentially 86 minutes of JW doing his stand-up, although he prefers to call it vaudeville. And actually it is very, very funny and well worth seeing. Like the rest of the NFT audience, the party were howling with laughter.

Finally it was time for the Q&A and Andrew seized the opportunity to ask whether JW felt protective of the role of Edna and what he thought of the casting of Michael Ball in the part.

Perhaps sensing a trap, JW answered the last part of the question first saying simply that he thought that the show would be great. Unfortunately the mic had disappeared from Andrew’s grasp so he couldn’t press the question, but Waters did talk about the role in general, saying that it wasn’t essential for the role to be played by a man but that it had rather satisfyingly become “a tradition” in the same way that Peter Pan is played by a girl.

He also reiterated his happiness with the notion that in High School productions the lead roles would go to the fat girl and the drag queen.

He then told a story about his mother ringing him to tell him that a local school was doing Hairspray. He told her not to tell him because they didn’t have the rights and he didn’t want to know but she pressed on anyway to reveal that it was a school for “retarded kids”. Now that made him sit up and take notice. That’s the future, he said. Fat people and gays were no longer outsiders in the same way they were when he made the original Hairspray film; retarded kids would bring back the edge.

We really, really hope that production transfers to the West End.

Casting news (updated 21 Aug)

Left: We note that in addition to Michael Ball and newcomer Leanne Jones, the Hairspray cast features Mel Smith as Wilbur which is curious as Wilbur is traditionally a man of slight build. Not that we are sizist.

And doesn’t Michael Ball look rather too glamorous? And that hair is way too flat.

We love Leanne Jones already though. There’s an interview with her in the interview with her in the Evening Standard.

Right: Link Larkin will be played by Ben James-Ellis, a semi-finalist (i.e. loser) from one of the many public casting travesties littering Phil’s TV screen (Andrew doesn’t do telly remember).

10 Responses to “John Waters, Hairspray, Edna Turnblad and so on”

  1. Paul Says:

    Hmm maybe he would have gone Michael… Who? Darn shame I missed it…

  2. JackN Says:

    Difficult to have an opinion on a performance that hasn’t happened yet.

    It is insipred casting imo.

  3. Mal Says:

    Michael Ball looks like a fat Elaine Paige in that get up…..

  4. J.ANON Says:

    Some rather un-called for comments. I hope that all the cast even the “Losers” put in a performance so that John Waters can eat his words.

    I myself was actually a fan of Ben James-Ellis during the ADWD shows, how you can call the show a travesty when so much talent has been discovered is beyond me.

    A typical review by a typical journalist. When will these people get out there and actually talk about positives rather than negatives.

  5. Lou Says:

    The show is a hit I think the cast and company have proved their point. You can’t stop the beat.

  6. michelle Says:

    cant’t wait to see the runner up(loser) from Joseph
    He’s gonna be a STAR!!!

  7. Keely Says:

    i’m fifteen and i love ben james-ellis. he is my inspiration and well…i just love him.
    i want to be just like him 😀 well, i’ve always wanted to act but just shows, doesnt it.


  8. Jenna Says:

    Ahhh I got Kissed By Ben James-ellis Yesturday After The Show… I loved It 😀


  9. Jess Says:

    the cast is amazing! ben ellis in particular. he is no loser!

  10. Carol Cox Says:

    So in other words, John Waters didn’t say what he thought of Michael Ball as Edna.
    Since Michael won the Olivier award playing
    Edna in March 2008, I wonder if Mr. Waters
    has an opinion now. No one, not even Michael
    Ball, will ever replace Divine as the original Edna. Michael chose to ‘doll up’
    Edna towards the end of the show, showing
    the vast difference between when she was just
    a Baltimore housewife and her ‘coming out’
    so to speak. I think Michael’s Edna is right
    up there with Divine. Maybe more so…

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