0 27 min 2 weeks

Photo credit: BRUCE GLIKAS

On this musical edition, for people who know me – I love live theatre and its still thriving today especially with today’s guest. In 2002, the 1988 John Waters classic film Hairspray premiered on Broadway. It went on to win eight Tonys including Best Musical and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical which our guest has won! Since playing Tracy, she has gone on compete on Season 6 with DWTS, served as a co-host in The Talk and was crowned the inaugural season of Celebrity Big Brother.

She is teaming up with Hairspray alum Laura Bell Bundy and Kerry Butler for ONE NIGHT ONLY at the Alden Theatre in McLean VA this Saturday June 8th at 7:00pm for the show “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” – The Three Leading Ladies of “Hairspray”

Let’s welcome to SNAPSHOTS the original Tracy Turnblad of Broadway, – tony award winner Marissa Jaret Winokur!

Marissa, welcome to Snapshots, how are you doing?

I’m good. Thank you for having me.

It is so great to have you here. As I mentioned, I fell in love with Hairspray since it first came out in 1988. Then we have a Broadway show.

Then a live TV show. Then they did a “live” NBC with Ariana Grande. It’s been it’s such a family affair. Like I feel like our Hairspray family, we really stick together!

Photo credit: BRUCE GLIKAS

Yes, 35 years! Now, 36 this year, it still keeps growing and it still keeps going and leads into my very first question. Talk about this show my fellow Washingtonians are going to see Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now – what can our audiences expect from the original Hairspray trio of Tracy, Penny and Amber?

Well, first of all, we all look exactly the same. We don’t, we don’t but you know, it’s funny as a whole we’re doing solo shows and realize we would have so much more fun if we were doing it together obviously. So we kind of put our solo shows together and made our show. By naming it Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now, you know, you’re gonna hear Hairspray music. It’s obviously rooted in our like friendship of Hairspray. But also, in the last 22 years, Kerry has done like 18 Broadway shows. Laura has done like four Broadway shows and TV. I went to L.A. and I did like you said Dancing with the Stars & Big Brother.

So, we tell stories of there’s life before Hairspray, there’s Hairspray and now we’re all moms. We all got married, we all became mothers and we all kind of went through the same journey so it makes for a great show. I always say to people “we are not coming in to be like here’s some new music I hope you like.” No, you’re gonna get to see Laura Bell Bundy sing Legally Blonde. That’s what she was nominated for a Tony. Kerry Butler is going to do some Xanadu, what she was nominated for a Tony for. She’s gonna do stuff from Little Shop because she originated that when it came on Broadway and Beetlejuice. Carrie was just in Beetlejuice.

Of course, I’m like, I want to play Mama Rose. I’m doing some Gypsy music, which we basically are hitting all the best showstoppers. There is no 11 O’clock number because they all are the 11 O’clock Number. It comes out hard. We’re really singing and dancing. It’s more of a show and less of a concert because we because we’re all theater kids. So, we need our props and our costumes and stuff.

I wouldn’t expect anything less from three wonderful theater kids. And it’s amazing. Is this the first time since Hairspray since you, Laura and Kerry performed together?

I mean, not this show in particular, but this show…yes. We just put this show up and started doing it in January. The DC/Virginia audience gets to see it a little better than the Utah audience in January. We’ve figured some of the kinks out. You’re not getting a two-and-a-half-hour show. We gave them a show in Utah that just went on for too long because we were so excited with all of our songs, we were just like going to town. Then, I was like “I would never want to sit through a show. I don’t care who’s doing it for that long.” So, we’ve got our cues up. We’ve got our songs cut, we’re like now it’s like magic. We’ve done it a bunch of times before you guys get to see it but it is our first time performing together in this show.

Just to let you know, I don’t care if it’s a two-and-a-half-hour show. I would ENJOY IT!

I know everybody did, everybody did. Honestly, we were like bring we brought them down so much. Personally though, I’d rather you leaving wanting more and come back and we’ll do because every show we add a new song. We change out a song. For people that have seen the concert, they can see it again because they’re of course you’re gonna get Good Morning Baltimore, and you’re gonna get the classics, we’re not gonna mess with those. We have some great fun medleys that you can’t believe how many songs we get in this show because we all are just so overambitious. Honestly, we’re all just like overachievers, all three of us. It’s been really fun.

Well, that is sensational. I’m looking forward to seeing it on Saturday. Let’s set the Wayback Machine to 2002. Talk to me about being the original Tracy Turnblad on Broadway. It’s a dream come true. What piqued your interest in taking on the role and auditioning for Tracy?

At the time, what piqued my interest, it was a Broadway show. I was like “I didn’t care what the show was” but I had done Grease on Broadway prior to Hairspray. And then, I had moved out to Los Angeles because I was like, “Oh, I’m a cute chubby actress. There’s not going to be very many roles for me after Grease.” I was like, “what am I going to do?” I went to L.A. to kind of be like “one of a kind” at the time. Now, thankfully, the doors have opened up for every size, every shape, every race. The doors have just changed so much since 2002.

At the time when we opened, they were like ”you’re like a plus sized role model. You’re changing the world.” I’m like “Really!?! Ok, that sounds like fun.” I didn’t even understand more. I was like, “Did you just call me fat?” I had both attitudes about things. I was obsessed with Hairspray when I saw Ricki Lake, in the John Waters movie. So, when they said they were doing Hairspray, I was the first girl to audition for Tracy Turnblad. The very first girl to meet with Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

Wow, that’s sensational! I understand that John Walters also helped with the musical. Did he give you any insight on making Tracy yours from the Tracy that we saw with Ricki Lake back in ’88?

That’s a great question. In 20 years, no one has asked me that question. You know, it’s interesting that John Waters didn’t give me any advice into Tracy. The truth is like the movie and John Waters is so much edgier and probably cooler than the Broadway show, let’s be clear. For me, Marissa, doing the role of Tracy, I was like, “this is a family show. This is a mainstream audience.” I’m gonna just make her adorable and root for her. Ricki got to do a lot more sexual things in her movie than would have allotted for in this.

But John Waters once said to me, he was like, “you know, out of every minority group…” I started working on it in 2000. So, it takes me all the way back to 2000. And John Waters had said to me, “the the female fat teenager, you know, the fat teenage girl is the one who really gets it the worst because she gets it from her parents. She gets it from her family. She doesn’t go home and her whole family is there to support her, you know. She’s being isolated at school, at home, with boys in life and being overweight as a teenager.” Again, this is a different time. But he said, “I always felt like every minority could relate to Tracy because they feel like an outcast in certain different situations. And because Tracy, people were picking on her just because the way she looked. They didn’t get to know her.”

I think we’ve seen a lot change in our world. I went to a lunch the other day. And at my little luncheon table, there was like twenty-something girls that were plus sized influencers with like, millions and millions of influential followers. I was like, “Man, where were you when I was doing Tracy because obviously they weren’t born yet. But me and Nia Vardalos were out there. She was doing My Big Fat Greek Wedding at the same time as I was doing Hairspray. We were like doing the same press junkets and everybody were asking questions that you couldn’t believe. A reporter would say, “where do you get your confidence?” And I’m like, “What!?! Would you ask any other actors where she gets her confidence?

And this is like the Broadway role of a lifetime. I’m winning a Tony Award, and they still would be like, “where do you get your confidence from? I said “I don’t know, maybe I’m talented and awesome.” It’s just so interesting, but John Waters was right. It was like being an overweight teenage girl in the 60s, even was really where this show was based. This was the minority that everyone could root for and that everyone could see a little bit of themselves in. And when he told me that I was like, “Oh, that’s really, really interesting. As just as an actress seeing that’s why so many people can relate to Tracy because they feel like outsiders, but that’s why he like was writing this about that girl.

Absolutely. And then the following year, you won your Tony Award for Best Actress – Leading in a Musical. What went through your mind when you heard your name called?

Yeah, that was crazy. Yeah, it’s crazy. And Billy Joel, for a New Yorker, was giving me my award. Billy Joel was so cool. Looking back, I was so naïve, I was so young. My mom and dad were both still alive, they were there. Both my brothers and my sister were there. The man who’s now my husband, Judah, he was sitting with me, he was my boyfriend at the time. My best friend Kathy, who has now passed away, she was sitting with me. My family was out there and I’m just so grateful.

I always believed, and it sounds super cocky but when I was young, I was like, “I’m going to be Ethel Merman. I want to be a Broadway star. I’m gonna win a Tony Award.” I was that crazy kid, I would literally that kid who was like, “I’m gonna do this, I had no plan. I didn’t know how I was going to do it.” I always knew I was gonna do it as a grown adult. Now, looking back at that time, I was so grateful It happened when I was young enough that my whole family was still alive. And my friend was still alive to be a part of that. They got to see it happen, because I believe at some point, it would have happened. I think it’s so much more important that they all and my mom & my dad, were there to see it happen.

So as an adult, I’m very grateful that it didn’t wait until I was older when I would have gotten one eventually. But I’m really glad that it took the pressure off for the rest of my life.

Absolutely. Now for those people who do not know that during the time of development of Hairspray, you’re diagnosed with cervical cancer. You made a full recovery. You hid it from people but your family only knew and at the time and you still made the show. Here you are 23 years cancer free.

Yeah, sir.

That is a blessing on its own!

Yeah, that’s like straight up from God. I mean, that’s crazy, because I couldn’t tell anyone at the time because they would have replaced me immediately and respectfully. It was a massive show to take. If they’d known what was going on, I wouldn’t have been able to. It sounds so silly, but Hairspray was such an amazing, feel good show. I also didn’t want people to be like, “Oh my God, that’s the girl with cancer. She’s doing great.” I wanted to be appreciated for doing great not because anyone felt sorry for me.

During the Tony Awards, by then, a couple of people that I knew really well knew about me having cancer. Throughout that year, I told a few people, and they were like, “Oh my God, if you drop the cancer card right now, you will totally win that Tony”. I’m so glad I didn’t because I always would have wondered if that was why. I still believe that the Tony win actually went to Tracy Turnblad not to Marissa. I think that it was like such a feel-good story that people wanted Tracy to win in the end. I think that “sure I did a great job” but the women I was up against, their performances were great.

I think don’t remember that we opened mid-2002. We were opened the first-year anniversary of September 11th. So, we were that first show that kind of came back and we’re like, “okay, Broadway is kind of still open and let’s feel good.” We were giving off such good energy. Good luck, happiness & joy. September 11 happened but New York is still thriving. I think my Tony win, didn’t happened because of cancer and didn’t really happen to happen because of me. Actually, they just wanted Hairspray to succeed. I think people were like, “we love that little fat girl Marissa who’s playing Tracy Turnblad she has to win it’s the only way!”

No kidding! And that year you had some stiff competition. I mean, Bernadette Peters, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who’s going to be in Nine at the Kennedy Center a few months from now. And the best part is that lead actor Harvey Firestein won that year too. So how does that feel for the both of you?

And Dick Latessa who played my father, he won best supporting actor. It was beautiful, like our little family won. And Harvey Firestein winning was “thank God” because honestly, had he not won, It would have been horrible at the theater. No, I’m just kidding. I’m just teasing. I knew he was gonna win. But Dick Latessa winning and Marc Shaiman & Scott Whitman winning for the music. Our director who Jack O’Brien who had directed so many things, but hadn’t won but won his first. It was like “It’s my year”, it was so amazing.


And we had been open for a whole year. What a lot of people don’t know about theater is a lot of the shows open in April, so that they can like qualify. And then they have all that Tony buzz. We opened in August. We had a full run before the Tonys which I think though ended up helping me personally. By the time that Tony voters were there, I had already locked in my show. My voice was locked in, my body was locked in. I was able to do my show. I didn’t have the added pressure of “we’re opening. I hope we stay open. Tony voters are here. I hope we win like the press for the Tonys.” I was able to do all the press because I was so locked into my show. I could do my show with a 103-degree fever.

I’m so glad that not only you kept your craft going you kept your talent going. But, you kept focused on your dream. You made it happen and you got a Tony & lots of accolades since. I’m very proud of you.

Thank you!

John Waters is a Maryland treasure. Of all his films, which one is your favorite?

My favorite is Serial Mom. I watched that movie so many times. That’s my one. So fun. What’s your favorite one? 

I have to say Cry Baby is my favorite. Now, is this your first time performing in the DC metro area?

I don’t think I have. I’ve been thinking about that because obviously, we’re so close to Baltimore, but I don’t think we ever. Now I could be wrong and someone will be like, “hello… you totally did like I probably did do something in Baltimore.”

Well, I’ll do some research to see if you have performed in Baltimore or DC. I’ll get back to you on Saturday. You danced your ass off on the 6th season of DWTS with Tony Dovolani and was eliminated during the semifinal round. 

Come on! For the fact that I made it that far, it was insane like “oh my gosh!” always said if you’re gonna get kicked off, get kicked off fourth not third because fourth you get to still do all your own press. You get to do all the episodes. I was on the first episode, the last episode and everyone in between. And then I went to do “Regis & Kelly” at the time. I got to do all the like fun press that you got to do back then. If you were third, then you have to travel with one and two and you’re like “I’m the loser.” So, I was fine.

Of all the dances you performed, which was your favorite and least favorite?

Oh, I know my least favorite. Oh my gosh, I attempt to do the Jive to Avril Lavigne’s Girlfriend. I was so bad. I feel like that was a lot of flipping. It wasn’t a quick step. It was a jive. I was like counting it was before I realized. So, I did like the first couple of episodes of DWTS. And I literally got by on my like unjust smile, charm and being the first plus size dancer they actually had on the show. It was the very first like I was the person that didn’t became like a sloth. Then they were like, “oh yeah, get the chubby girl in here. America loves that. Oh, big surprise!”

That number though, was like my third dance. And that was the first time I was like, “Oh, I thought that I was going to get cut because I was not good. My friend called me up. And she was like, “I know what you’re doing wrong. You’re just dancing. You’re counting. I can see you counting. You’re thinking about the steps.” She’s like, “you’re an actress. If you were in a TV show right now where they were like, You got to do a tango, you would just do the tango” and I’m like, “Oh my God, you’re right

And then the next one up was the Paso Doble and I was like, “Oh, we have a story. I have a thing.” Then, it was like the dances I made. And Tony, of course, was just learning the dance. I’m like, “here’s our story. I’m a princess.” And once we did that, like the tango, was my favorite. My favorite was the tango. By far, I had the best story. There was a lot of acting! Again, I could really connect to the tango. But listen, I love doing it so much. If they asked me to do it tomorrow, I would say absolutely not. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was it was so stressful. It was so hard. It was like my brain never slept. I like cried every night so stressed out, but, but it was a great time.

Well, I’m so glad to hear it. And like me, you are a true theatre geek. I saw your Instagram post recently with Shoshana Bean at Hell’s Kitchen on Broadway. So I got to ask the obvious question. Aside from Hairspray, what are your favorite Broadway shows past and present?

Well, fingers crossed that’s Shoshana will win on June 15th

The summer weather is here in full force. What are your favorite summer activities?

I literally like, “Hey, you emailed me, let’s figure it out. When can we get it done?” I’m a worker. I mean, a lot of people when I would do the reality stuff, people are like, “Oh my God, don’t do Big Brother. Don’t do Dancing with the Stars.” And I’m like, “No, this is fun. This is what life’s all about.” I’m always up for an adventure. So, it’s very rare that I’m on vacation because the minute I make a vacation, I’ll book a job. I’m not going to make as much as I should go on vacation but I’m still going to do the job. I’m always going to do the job always

Well, if you had to choose your favorite vacation spot one day to go, where would you go?

Well, I have been on vacation and it’s Italy! In 2022, my friend took me on a trip through Italy. I’ve never been on such a magnificent trip in my life. We went through Rome & Venice and we just kept hitting the cities. It was Florence & Sicily. It was the craziest time. It was the most fun I ever had. I ate the best food I’ve ever had. I don’t drink but I had some drinks because when you’re in Italy, you’re eating so much. We’d go to wineries; how do you not try it? You know? I always say that I’ll choose the bread over the wine. It’s just a calorie thing. It’s not that I’ll drink too much, it’s just a pure calorie – in calorie out. Italy, I will say, is my favorite.

Next month, you are performing in a special concert with Marc Shaiman at the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park in San Diego. Tell us about that

Now, I’ve never asked this question of anybody, not even freaking Nathan Lane and I interviewed him just a few months ago. Since we’re both theater geeks, if you Marissa, can write your own musical. What would what would it be like?

If I were to write my musical, it would probably be a little bit of Avenue Q, except that I would be like myself and the puppet would be also me. It would be me and my puppet army because honestly, and it it would be a little sarcastic, a little fun, a little racy in that sense. I always say that I would rather be more like Bea Arthur than Betty White. I do love working with Kerry Butler, because the minute you’re on stage with Kerry Butler, she’s Betty White, I get to be Bea Arthur because, for so many years she was the sidekick. She was the sweet, funny sidekick to Tracy. So Penny and Tracy are that same kind of vibe. I would love to do like how Elaine stretch just did her life. I like that kind of show. I am not ready for it yet but someday, someday.

Thank you, Marissa! And folks if you want to see Marissa singing your favorite Hairspray tunes, then come on out to the Alden Theatre to see “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” – The Three Leading Ladies of “Hairspray” – Saturday June 8th at 7:00pm

$75/$60 senior/$50 MCC tax district residents
VIP $100/$85 senior/$75 MCC tax district residents
VIP tickets include preferred seating and meet and greet after the show.

For more information and to purchase tickets, click HERE

About The Author