Stage

You Can't Stop the Beat: Hairspray Comes to Broadway at the Hobby

Deidre Lang as Motormouth Maybelle and company in Hairspray.
Deidre Lang as Motormouth Maybelle and company in Hairspray. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

More than 20 years after it first premiered on Broadway, the new North American tour of Hairspray arrives at Broadway at the Hobby Center this week and Deidre Lang plays the entertaining character Motormouth Maybelle.

For those who haven't seen the movie or other iterations of the Tony Award-winning musical, Hairspray is the story of Tracy Turnblad who lives in racially-segregated Baltimore in the 1960s and loves to dance. She successfully auditions for a spot on The Corny Collins Show  despite not having the svelte form of all the other dancers and risks her subsequent celebrity to integrate the show. Motormouth Maybelle is the local disc jockey allowed to host the one-time-a-month "Negro Day" at the Baltimore station.

Hairspray won eight Tony Awards in 2003 and thanks to its music as well as the story, it has remained a popular musical traveling across the country. It was made into a film in 2007 starring a powerhouse of actors including John Travolta as Edna, Tracy's mom. The part of the mom is traditionally played by a man which is the case in this production as well with Greg Kalafatas. "When he starts playing the role, you forget he's a man. Because he goes in as Edna," Lang says.

Lang (Broadway: Ragtime, The Lion King, Tommy) went out on the first national tour of Hairspray in 2002 when, she says readily, she was a little too young to play Motormouth Maybelle. She was one of the dancers in the red dresses, The Dynamites. "I was an understudy for Motormouth and I always said, 'One day I'm going to play this role.' I said' ' I know I'm too young for it but I said one day I'm going to come back to Hairspray and I'm going to play this role.'"

Asked about what she likes about being tis character, Lang says: Right now in life I can kind of relate to her because she’s a mother and a mother figure to a lot of the kids in the show. I have two daughters 21 and 23. She’s very motherly and she has a lot of knowledge and she 's lived a lot of life and she has a lot to give to these kids."

Lang says she used to watch old Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly films late at night and knew from a young age she wanted to be on stage. She started taking lesson and was even accepted to Alvin Ailey whee she dropped out after six month because she got a par tin Bubbling Brown Sugar. "I never had to take a day job until the pandemic," she says.

"Now that I've lived some life I can really put some feeling into it. "She says she loves to sing the song "I Know Where I've Been."

click to enlarge
Caroline Eisemann as Tracy Turnblad and Greg Kalatatas as Edna Turnblad and company in Hairspray.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
In fact. she points out, that all the songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are memorable. "The music is so much fun to sing. And then we have 'You Can't Stop the Beat' at the end which everyone loves and everyone is up on their feet singing and dancing."

Why its continuing popularity?

"This show it’s just it has something in it for everybody it’s a timeless piece starts that no matter what year it comes out, it will always appeal to people of all ages, all colors, all backgrounds. It ends up in a happy place and everybody wants to be in that happy place. "

Performances are scheduled for June 4-9 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For more information, call 713- 315-2525 or visit thehobbycenter.org or broadwayatthehobbycenter.com. $35-$290.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing