Lizzie Bea interview: 'The character of Tracy Turnblad has influenced so many people'

Hairspray

The beat of Baltimore comes back to the West End in 2020, as Hairspray comes to the London Coliseum. Last seen in London over a decade ago, the musical tells of a teenager named Tracy who successfully auditions for a television show, later scolded by others for her progressive political thinking. Receiving 11 Olivier Award nominations in 2008, Hairspray broke records and got everyone talking.

In what has now become Hairspray tradition, West End newcomer Lizzie Bea will step into the role of Tracy Turnblad from April 2020. Previously appearing in the national tour of Kinky Boots, she’s no stranger to the stage, but Hairspray marks her leading lady debut.

We spoke to Lizzie about how she grew up singing the musical with friends and family, meeting her fellow cast mates and her unlucky attempts to make it on reality TV.  

Hairspray tickets are available now.


You’re following in the footsteps of previous actresses who have made their leading lady debut as Tracy, is there a pressure that comes with that?

I’ve watched other people be a lead for the first time and how they’ve handled it, so I can’t wait for the responsibility. I feel grateful that my career has led up to this. I want to be reliable and be a good company leader and I just want it to be an amazing experience for everyone.

Did you see the last West End production at the Shaftesbury Theatre with Michael Ball?

I’ve never seen Hairspray on stage! I think that’s a good thing because I haven’t seen other people do it, so I’ll be approaching the character in a fresh way. My mum and my sister went to see it and they raved about it. It was when we’d see one show a year, and it definitely made an impression on them.

They must be ecstatic that you’re going to play Tracy, then?

They’re so excited, they couldn’t believe me! My sister just kept saying “oh my god!”

You must have seen the Hairspray films though?

I’ve been obsessed with it ever since it came out. My best friends and I were obsessed; we'd watch the singalong version all the time – we knew it inside out. A little while ago, I was at an event with Ricki Lake (the first actress to play Tracy Turnblad) and watched the original film. It was cool to see what the musical was originally based on and reflect on what has changed and what’s stayed the same.

How was Ricki?

She’s amazing! She’s exactly the same as what she’s like on screen. Meeting her made me realise why she’s so successful is because she’s so down to earth. It’s crazy to think Ricki Lake created the role of Tracy Turnblad; that character has influenced so many people and she's so well-loved.

We don’t know the full cast so far, but we know that Michael Ball and Marisha Wallace will star in Hairspray, are you excited to work with the pair of them?

I can’t wait. I met Marisha during a photoshoot and she’s exactly how I’d imagine she would be; she’s so open and energetic and cannot wait to star in the show. I couldn’t imagine a better person to play the role and I know the song “I Know Where I’ve Been” will be a showstopper.

Then. Michael Ball. Every time I think about working with him, I feel like that’s a career goal. He’s the most famous British musical theatre star – his name is synonymous with theatre - and he’s been so kind every time we've met. I can’t wait to learn from him.

Is there a moment that you’re excited for when you perform Hairspray at the Coliseum?

For me, it has to be the opening number. “Good Morning Baltimore” is so iconic and how the song builds is just incredible. Everyone recognises the moment with Tracy Turnblad in the bed, so when I’m performing that part to a live audience, it’s just gonna be insane.

Hairspray isn’t a brand new musical, but why do you think the messages are relevant to today?

I think the message of Hairspray is timeless. Take Tracy, she’s a girl who learns you should be nothing but yourself and the right people are going to love you for that. It’s one of the only stories where a girl who looks like Tracy does get the guy in the end and it doesn’t end with her being humiliated. Aside from Tracy, the messages about race are so prominent today – take the election! – I think we need a show that champions equality. I couldn’t think of a better time to bring Hairspray back.

It’s also a show for people of all ages. This will be my third show with Jerry Mitchell [choreographer] – his productions have people of all ages, shapes, sizes and ethnicities and they’re accessible to absolutely everyone. After Hairspray, you’ll leave the theatre feeling so much better than when you went in. This musical is going to change lives.

Just like Tracy auditioned for the Corny Collins Show, is there a TV show you’d love to appear on?

My friends and I applied for the show Coach Trip but we didn’t get on it and I was fuming! I also applied for Couples Come Dine with Me with my friend even though we’re not a couple. I was furious I didn’t make it on that show, either! If it wasn’t either of them, it would be Dancing on Ice. It would be hilarious and I’d want to be like the new Gemma Collins, I’m obsessed with her. Or I'd appear on Nailed It on Netflix, it’s all about people who try to bake and fail miserably. 

If you were living in 1960s America, what would your style be?

I love sixties fashion! It’s outrageous but in the best way. You look at what people are wearing now and it’s definitely sixties-inspired already. I’d be wearing neon colours and animal prints and I love a headscarf as well, so I think I’d be a mixture of any pattern – but it’s pretty much how I dress anyway.

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