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The Nicest Kids in Town

Nikki Blonsky, Zac Efron, Brittany Snow, Elijah Kelley, and Amanda Bynes light up the screen in Hairspray.

By New York City
Amanda Bynes and Nikki Blonsky in Hairspray
(© New Line Pictures)
Amanda Bynes and Nikki Blonsky in Hairspray
(© New Line Pictures)
After Adam Shankman's exuberant film version of the Broadway musical Hairspray opens on Friday, there will be five new stars in the Hollywood pantheon: Nikki Blonksy, who plays the film's heroine, plus-sized Tracy Turnblad; Zac Efron, who plays her love interest, Link Larkin; Brittany Snow, who's all blond perfection as Link's girlfriend, Amber Von Tussle; Amanda Bynes, who plays Tracy's ditzy best friend, Penny Pingleton; and Elijah Kelley, who plays Penny's inamorata, Seaweed Stubbs.

While four of the actors have significant film and television experience, Blonsky, was a 17-year-old Long Islander scooping out ice cream at a local Cold Stone Creamery when she learned she got her first-ever film role. But this Cinderella story does have a modern-day twist. Blonsky, who began taking vocal lessons at 8, made an audition tape that made its way to the film's casting directors. They then arranged for her to audition for Shankman at an open call in Baltimore.

"When I got there, I saw hundreds of plus-sized girls on the street, all dressed as they thought Tracy would," Blonsky recalls. "I thought, 'please let him see something different in me.' I ended up doing some songs and scenes from the show, and as soon as I sang 'Good Morning Baltimore,' I began to feel better."

Getting the role was just part of having a lifelong dream come true. For example, there was the opportunity to work with John Travolta, who plays Tracy's full-bodied mom, Edna. "It was an honor to work with him. We have this really strong bond now; he really was like a mother to me," she notes, adding that they now share the same agent. And what about her brief scene with John Waters, the director of the original film of Hairspray? "He said to me, 'I'm so glad you got the part' and that was such a blessing. I owe everything to him."

Zac Efron in Hairspray
(© New Line Pictures)
Zac Efron in Hairspray
(© New Line Pictures)
And let's not forget little things like the star-studded premieres and even the Tracy doll, which hit toy store shelves this week. "I couldn't wait for the New York premiere at the Ziegfeld, since I am a New Yorker, and the applause we got really meant the world to me. I got to walk the red carpet with Liza Minnelli, who's one of my idols. I am surprised I didn't faint," she says. "And I think the Tracy doll is important because it's plus-sized. When I was growing up, all we had was Barbie."

Efron, perhaps the best known of the young cast because of his role as Troy in the Disney Channel megahit High School Musical, says the toughest part of filming was mastering Shankman's often complex choreography. "We were put in the middle of all these professional dancers, who had learned the dances in one day," he notes. "The best advice I got was just to try and keep up."

The 19-year-old heartthrob had the opportunity to perform one of the only new numbers for the film, "Ladies' Choice." "I was flattered that Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman wrote this for me," he says. "They decided they needed something more fast-paced than "It Takes Two" for that particular scene, because they wanted something where you really notice Tracy's dancing."

Next up for Efron fans is High School Musical 2, which begins airing on the Disney Channel on August 17. "I had just come off filming Hairspray, so I didn't have time to worry about repeating the success of the first one. And we had a lot of fun on the set." There's also a possible HSM3 in the works, and Efron has signed up for a remake of the film Footloose, to be done as a full-scale musical.

Brittany Snow in Hairspray
(© New Line Pictures)
Brittany Snow in Hairspray
(© New Line Pictures)
Playing a girl of the 1960s was not a new experience for Snow, who starred on the NBC '60s-set drama American Dreams. "When I did that show, I learned a lot about that era by listening to the music, and I really love it. I find that period really fascinating" she says. Having spent much of her career as the "nice girl," Snow also relished the opportunity to play the bad girl. "It's always more fun."

She was also thrilled to share time on the set with so many actors she's admired, especially Pfeiffer, who plays her equally evil mother, Velma. "The great thing about working with people you grew up idolizing is that you discover that they're genuine, real people," says Snow. "You discover they're passionate about their work, but that they also have other interests. Michelle and I talked a lot about clothes and shoes, as well as our parts."

Kelley, a budding recording artist, was particularly thrilled to work opposite Queen Latifah as his on-screen mom, Motormouth Maybelle. "She has transcended all realms of entertainment, from music to movies, and broken every stereotype, so she's a real example to me," he says. "And she gave me the best piece of advice, which is just for me to be me."

Amanda Bynes and Elijah Kelley in Hairspray
(© New Line Pictures)
Amanda Bynes and Elijah Kelley
in Hairspray
(© New Line Pictures)
Kelley admits his 1960's hairdo is quite different than his usual cut. (At the moment, his head is mostly shaved.) "I didn't know I was going to have my hair permed and relaxed. They took out all these chemicals and I started to call my agent -- like he was really going to be able to do something about it," he laughs. "Zac was next to me and they were cutting and dyeing his hair, and we were both freaking out."

Coiffure-wise, Bynes had it a little easier. "All the other women had wigs, but I only wore a hairpiece. But that means they had to curl and spray it, and I didn't like it when I heard all that sizzling. Plus, at the end of the day, all the other ladies got to return to their flowing, natural hair," says the poised young actress. "One day, Christopher Walken (who plays Wilbur Turnblad) told me I looked like a Playboy bunny he once knew. I didn't ask him any further."

For the most part, Kelley and Bynes enjoyed dressing up in looks popular two decades before they were born. "I actually asked very nicely if I could keep my wardrobe, and they told me 'no, this stuff is going to be in a museum someday," says Bynes. "I should've just stolen those pointy Keds I wanted." And Kelley has adopted a little of the look into his current wardrobe, with one notable exception. "Those pants were way too tight," he says emphatically. "My blood circulation stopped at the waist."


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