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A New Twist On Tradition
This new version of Hairspray is not without at least two traditions of the franchise's legacy: the role of Tracy Turnblad has always been played by an unknown talent; and the role of Edna Turnblad has always been played by a male actor. First it was Ricki Lake and Divine, then Marissa Winokur and Harvey Fierstein and now, Nikki Blonsky is Tracy and John Travolta is Edna. 

"Come to Mama.” With arms wide open, those were the first words actor John Travolta said to his latest leading lady, Nikki Blonsky, upon meeting her for the first time back in August 2006. Seeing them together, everyone involved in the production knew they were on to something special.

"Their connection was immediate,” recalls producer Neil Meron. "That first meeting exemplifies the relationship they had from the get-go. It was a bit overwhelming because it was like these two people were destined to be together in some way. We all just took a step back because we knew we were witnessing the beginning of what might be one of the greatest ‘mother-daughter' acts of all time.”

"The day I met John Travolta is a day I'll never forget,” says Blonsky, the high school senior who was working part-time at a Long Island ice cream store before landing a starring role opposite one of the most famous movie stars in history. "When we hugged, I felt like I was hugging my real mom. He made me feel so comfortable and loved and protected…which is just what moms are supposed to do.”

"A star has definitely been born,” says Travolta of Blonsky's performance. "I don't think I'll ever have to eat my words about that. Once you see Nikki perform it will be quite evident that she has a presence, talent and charisma not unlike a young Barbra Streisand or Bette Midler. She is as unique in her abilities as those two women are in theirs.”

The chemistry between Travolta and Blonsky may have been instantaneous, but the casting of Edna and Tracy Turnblad was not accomplished quite as quickly. In fact, it took about a year for producers Zadan and Meron to convince Travolta to star in the film.

"John is the greatest movie musical star of this generation, but he was reticent for a long time because he was concerned about a return to the genre that made him a star,” says Meron. "He kept telling Craig and me that if he was to make another musical he wanted it to be a project that was not going to be ordinary in any way. Well, we just kept saying to him that John Travolta portraying Edna Turnblad would be anything but ordinary.”

Zadan adds, "Understandably, John was hesitant for many reasons, but we kept telling him that this was his role, that it would be unlike any role he has ever done in his career. John has always kept surprising his audience, and we told him this would be his biggest surprise ever, literally and figuratively speaking.”

This was not the first time Meron and Zadan had approached Travolta about starring in a musical. They initially hoped that would accept the role of Billy Flynn in Chicago, but he turned it down and the part ultimately went to Richard Gere.

"Honestly, Chicago was the first musical film project that tempted me to return to the genre, and now I have regrets that I didn't do it,” says Travolta. "So, Craig and Neil told me that I was not getting away this time. They gave me all the details of how they were going to approach the material and all the reasons why I should play this part. For quite a while, though, it was hard for me to grasp the concept of being a leading man for 30 years, and now I am being sought out to play a fat woman from Baltimore. But after many, many months of indecision, they successfully convinced me to shake my booty again, but this time as Edna.”

Helping transform Travolta into Edna was the special makeup design expertise of Tony Gardner and his incredibly talented team of makeup artists and pros

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