Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Mitchell Divulge Hairspray Live! Secrets

The star and choreographer of the upcoming broadcast provide details about the show’s live audience, new songs, and the potential for a revival.

Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad in a promotional image for Hairspray Live!
Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad in a promotional image for Hairspray Live!
(© Brian Bowen Smith/NBC)

During a conference call on November 21, Hairspray Live adapter and star Harvey Fierstein and choreographer Jerry Mitchell released details about what audiences can expect from the show.

"We've stuck very, very close to the Broadway production," Mitchell said of this new version of Hairspray. "Obviously, you're limited in time with television, where a musical [onstage] can be anything between two and three hours. We're following the actual shape of the Broadway musical."

"I'm one of the original writers of the show," Fierstein noted, who reprises his Tony-winning performance as Edna Turnblad and also pens the teleplay. "I'm uncredited. But I also wrote the adaptation that we did in Las Vegas and the adaptation we did at the Hollywood Bowl."

Fierstein's knowledge of the show gives him a leg up. "I know what this show does to an audience. An audience goes insane when they leave the theater, they are so joyous about life," he says. "My big concern was how do you transfer that to the home? How do we tell the story, be true to the story, and still get you excited about life?"

He continued, "When we were writing the show in the first place, we digested the John Waters movie and decided what we wanted and what we didn't. That has already been done. The Hollywood movie [from 2007] didn't really play very much into this."

However, for Derek Hough, who plays Corny Collins and has a dance background, "Jerry wanted to use a song that was in the movie called "Ladies Choice," because it was more of a dance song. So that was one thing that we did." They've also added "Come So Far" from the film "as our curtain call number," Mitchell notes, and have cut the rousing second-act opener "Big Doll House."

This production will also use a live audience, which NBC's past live musicals have not. "Obviously, The Corny Collins Show is a teen dance show, that’s one way we'll use the live audience," Mitchell says. "The applause after 'Good Morning Baltimore' will transition to Corny Collins' studio, where we pick up with 'The Nicest Kids in Town.' "

There will also be audiences "scattered through the back lot," Mitchell says. "I think the people who are fans of the Broadway production will be excited. I've taken the Broadway idea and now made it work for television. With 'You Can't Stop the Beat,' Tracy's steps are exactly the same as they were on Broadway."

While this is Fierstein's first journey back to Edna in several years, he hasn't necessarily ruled out donning her attire in the future. "They're talking about a revival," he notes. "I never say never to anything," though his next immediate project is a new play by Bent dramatist Martin Sherman at the Public Theater. Still, "I owe such a debt of gratitude to Edna, and I will always protect her and be there for her if she needs me."

Jerry Mitchell is the choreographer of Hairspray Live!
Jerry Mitchell is the choreographer of Hairspray Live!
(© Michael Desmond/NBC)