After a few unexpected turns, Nina West is preparing to follow in the nimble footsteps of drag icons by assuming the role of her dreams this fall.
The veteran of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” will play Edna Turnblad on the national tour of the musical “Hairspray”, which kicks off Nov. 17 in San Diego, Calif., And will visit more than 60 US cities. West will be joined by Niki Metcalf and Toneisha Harris as Tracy Turnblad and Motormouth Maybelle, respectively, with an additional cast to be announced later.
“It’s the role I’ve always wanted,” said West, real name Andrew Levitt. “Edna’s journey as a character is a journey that I did not see how beautiful we are on the outside, not believe we are worthy, be ashamed of ourselves. a trip that many of us take, isn’t it? “
Based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name, “Hairspray” follows Tracy Turnblad, an energetic and fun sixties teenager in Baltimore whose dream is to dance on television’s most popular variety show. After landing a role, Tracy begins campaigning for the show to fall apart so that she can share the limelight with artists of color.
Edna Turnblad, the protagonist’s mother, was played in the 1988 film by pickup icon Divine and in the original 2003 Broadway production of Harvey Fierstein’s musical. (The less said about John Travolta’s portrayal in the 2007 film adaptation of the musical, the better.)
West’s “Hairspray” journey dates back to 2019, when she received a phone call from Jerry Mitchell, who choreographed the original Broadway staging, to audition for the new production. She officially landed the role of Edna in March of last year, just a week before theaters in the United States closed to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The experience of being cast into a dream role, only to then see it ripped off indefinitely before rehearsals started, was “humbling,” West said. “As an artist you say to yourself, ‘God, how can I prepare for this? What am I going to do next? ‘ Everyone was saying, “Rotate, pivot, pivot!” So the pandemic, for me, has been a quick learning tool on how to regroup and stay constantly aware, awake, and energized. ”
And to his credit, West has spent most of the past 16 months building his profile in major ways. Last year, she teamed up with Dolly Parton for a clothing line called “Kindness is Queen” and, later, actress Patricia Clarkson for a musical tribute to Kamala Harris, then Democratic candidate for vice-president. presidency, before election night. In June, she hosted the live-broadcast Disney + concert “This Is Me: Pride Celebration Spectacular,” where she performed a duet with Kermit the Frog.
Collectively, West views these experiences as her field training for “Hairspray,” which she considers to be one of the best musicals ever written.
“We are at an impasse in our country,” she said. “People in our country are afraid and do not know if it is even safe to leave our homes. We have politicized getting a vaccine that will take care of people and keep them healthy. … I think a show like ‘Hairspray’ will allow us to celebrate, reconnect and refocus.
“The role allows me to bring Nina, a drag character that I have cultivated for 20 years,” she added. “It also allows me to be Andrew and celebrate that part of myself as an actor doing the job. I’ve really leaned down to be very vulnerable with people and allow myself to be pretty honest.
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