John Travolta delivers the drag and Queen Latifah serves up the soul, but it’s newcomer Nikki Blonsky who holds the beating heart of “Hairspray”— right in her thrusting hips.
“She just acted like a pit bull,” jokes director-choreographer Adam Shankman about Blonsky. “I wanted to cast her because she really loved moving her body. She has no body shame. Neither Nikki or her character, Tracy, thinks of herself as being overweight.”
The film musical, which opened Friday, is based on the Broadway hit and inspired by John Waters’ original 1988 cult classic, which mixed Rikki Lake and Divine into an unforgettable pop-culture stew.
The 21st-century version is a riveting musical rollercoaster ride — think “Grease” or “Little Shop of Horrors” — back into the early 1960s that finds heavily hairsprayed Tracy Turnblad (Blonsky) milking a dream of dancing on “The Corny Collins Show,” Baltimore’s hippest televised dance smorgasbord. Along for the ride: Christopher Walken, James Marsden, Brittany Snow, Zac Efron and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Of her first starring film gig, Blonsky tosses her hands up in the air, rolls her eyes and says, “Oh my God — I loved it.”
Originally from Great Plains, N.Y., the energetic 18-year-old says she’d repeatedly seen the Broadway show when she was in high school and, like her alter ego Tracy, she just couldn’t wait to “shimmy and shake it.”
“I got into this knowing my way around a little bit, but during the shooting I was on pure adrenaline,” she says. “I was dancing five to six hours a day for months.”
While riding the crest of that emotional wave was stellar, Blonsky says she was just determined to master all of the songs and dance numbers. “These people gave me this amazing opportunity and I wasn’t going to falter here,” she adds. “I was going to give it my all and prove to them that they made the right decision.”
About her unstoppable love for dancing, Blonsky says, “I think there comes a point in life where words just can’t express the passion or the emotional level you are at. So the only way you can do that is to say, ‘I am just going to sing it out or dance it out.’”
That happens on screen. With 16 songs and nearly as many dance pieces, the film delivers plenty of fun. But “Hairspray” also tackles issues of race and points to one powerful message in particular: Embrace being different.
That may be yesterday’s news, but in a day and age when even something as retro as prejudice keeps trying to make a comeback, perhaps the message can’t be heard loud enough.
“The film said a lot about being different and how that’s OK,” Blonsky says. “Whatever race you are, sexual orientation, transsexual, bisexual, gay straight, black, white, purple, big or small — it doesn’t matter. Be who you are. That’s the bottom line. Accept it. And enjoy it.”