Hairspray –It’s a History

April 13, 2022

Hairspray–It’s a History


Broadway Utica’s presents the musical adaptation of the 1980s film Hairspray has fans eagerly anticipating its arrival. The fun-loving movie, both in its original version by John Waters in 1988 and its updated remake by Adam Shankman in 2006, has made a lasting impression on all who’ve seen it. From the hair to the music and the corny references, Hairspray found a space in the heart of a generation. As Hairspray gets ready to light up the Stanley Theatre with its bold colors, teased hair, and energy, Broadway Utica wants to give you a little insight into the history of the musical that will have guests twisting their way down Genesee Street.

Hairspray is the original creation of John Waters’ who grew up in the early 60s watching Baltimore’s version of American Bandstand, “The Buddy Deane Show.” Much like Hairspray’s unsung hero, Tracy Turnblad, Waters dreamed of being on the show – a dream he obtained to only be kicked off when he performed the booty green dance on air.  Waters went on to write about his love for the Buddy Deane Show in a short story for Baltimore Magazine, “Ladies and Gentlemen… The Nicest Kids in Town!,” which later appeared in his book “Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters.” While the book received a mild success, the thrill of his original story fueled the creation for Hairspray. 

Centered around Baltimore, Water’s Hairspray is set around Tracy Turnblad, a full-figured teenager who dreams of performing the Mashed Potato on “The Corny Collins Show.” Tracy, who scatters the producer’s idea that heavy women don’t belong on screen, becomes a regular and steals the heart of the handsome dancer, Link. But, thanks to her best friend Penny Pingleton, it’s not long before Tracy begins to fight segregation, inviting all ethnicities, shapes, and sizes to dance on “Corny Collins.”

The thrill of show business allowed Waters to push the limits, casting Harris Glenn Milstead, better known by his stage name Divine, as Tracy’s mother, Eva. Another proud Baltimore resident, Divine was known for his female drag personality, so establishing him as Eva, a mother who spends her days ironing clothes for neighbors and the racist owner of the TV station, seemed an ideal fit. Sadly, the role would be Divine’s last as he passed away days after the movie premiered.

Hairspray did well at the box office, but it was years later, when the movie premiered on television that it created a strong connection with young people. It was also during this time that Broadway producer, Margo Lion happened to catch the romantic comedy on air and thought about turning it into a musical.

While Lion originally hoped Waters would write the musical, it was Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, accompanied by lyricist and composer Marc Shaiman, and lyricist Scott Wittman, who helped bring the film to stage. Waters, who was flattered, had been said to decline the opportunity because he knew that ‘in order to make it successful on stage, something new was needed.’ 

The musical opened in Seattle in 2002 and was invited to perform on Broadway in under nine months. Within one year, Hairspray won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score. Hairspray closed its Broadway doors six years later, only to open a West End production and begin a national tour. 

While Hairspray has been adapted as a musical, an updated movie in 2007, and a LIVE NBC broadcast, it continues to remain relevant, touching on the same morals and ideals that America continues to face 34 years later.

Interested in seeing what the hype is all about? Tease up your hair, loosen those hips, and log on to, call 315-624-9444, or visit their box office at 258 Genesee street to get your tickets today.


That’s the thrill of show business—that anything can happen. 

John Waters’ 1988 film Hairspray opened on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre August 15, 2002, after beginning performances July 18. The musical played 2,642 performances before closing January 4, 2009, winning eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Set in 1960s Baltimore, Hairspray tells the story of a girl chasing her dream of performing on a TV dance show—and working to integrate the show in the process. The musical features music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and a book by Thomas Meehan.

View All News Listings