Drag Race queen Nina West honors iconic Edna Turnblad 'titans' who came before her with Hairspray debut
Good morning bald-timore! RuPaul's Drag Race star Nina West is snatching wigs with her debut as Hairspray's Edna Turnblad, and EW has the exclusive first look at her transformation into the legendary role.
The actor and activist tells EW that she feels the gravitas of the queer legacy that came before her as she prepares for the upcoming national tour of Hairspray as she steps into heels previously occupied by Harvey Fierstein (who won a Tony for playing Edna on Broadway) and pioneering drag artist Divine (who originated the part in the classic 1988 John Waters film).
"I've felt they were my queer parents in a way," says Nina, who hopes her interpretation of the character — the agoraphobic, protective mother of the wide-eyed, body-positive lead, Tracy Turnblad, who fights against racial segregation in 1960s Baltimore — will stand the test of time alongside others who've played the part across the screen and stage, including Paul Vogt, John Pinette, and Bruce Vilanch.
"These men are titans of our community," she adds. "I feel the weight of it. I feel the enormity of it. But I also feel incredibly at ease about the whole thing, as I know I'm supposed to bring my own version and self to Edna. That's what each of these men did, and I'm lucky enough that I get to do my own version of Edna now."
With 21 years of experience as a drag artist and community advocate, ranging from a glowing run on RuPaul's Drag Race season 11 and raising millions of dollars for the queer community, Nina says her comfort in slipping into women's clothing adds a tangible familiarity with aesthetic parts of the character. But while the role has traditionally been played by men in drag, Edna herself "is not a drag queen," Nina stresses. And her performance will emphasize that.
"She is flesh and blood — a living, breathing mother and wife. She is a woman, and my job as such is to bring her to life. I think that is where the roads of Nina and Edna differ," Nina says of the "complicated, flawed, and perfectly imperfect" woman she'll portray.
"Edna is delicious as a character because we get to watch her evolve throughout the time of the show and we, as an audience, grow with her," she says. "With Edna, my work and my creation are completely different, and the execution and delivery must be approached differently as a result. Does Nina inform this process? Absolutely. Will the audience see Nina West? I don't think so."
Director Jack O'Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell helped bring the national tour of Hairspray back to the stage, with Nina leading the cast alongside Niki Metcalf as Tracy and The Voice alum Toneisha Harris as Motormouth Maybelle.
Hairspray's national tour kicks off Friday in Yakima, Wash., and will hit cities around the country through June 2022. A full list of dates can be found on the show's website.
Check out more first-look images of the cast below.
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