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Written By: Mark Armstrong
Provided By: Liverpool Empire Theatre
With the internationally-popular show Hairspray about to land at the Liverpool Empire Theatre, Mark Armstrong recently spoke to one of the main stars of the show, Freya Sutton, to discuss her role as Tracy Turnblad and why it is the perfect part for her to play …
To begin with, briefly tell us the story of Hairspray.
My character Tracy Turnblad is from a family that is not very well-off (her mum’s a housewife who does ironing and stuff, and her dad runs a shop that doesn’t really do very well), plus they’re kind of overweight. Tracy is told that entering the dance business is a risk, because her mother doesn’t want to see her get hurt, but Tracy is determined and says that she really want to get onto a TV show, The Corny Collins Show, which would showcase her talents.
And she manages to do that with the help of her friend Penny (Monique Young), plus along the way, she meets Seaweed (Dex Lee) who is the son of Motormouth Maybelle (Brenda Edwards), a DJ on the Corny Collins show. And at one point, Tracy thinks “Well, hang on. This isn’t about me wanting to dance anymore; Seaweed’s little sister wants to dance on the show, they want to dance more and they’re really good, so you know what? It’s not all about me; I want everyone to dance together.” So by the end of the show, she makes that happen, and she actually manages to have a love story as well with Link Larkin (Ashley Gilmour) who is a popular boy on The Corny Collins Show.
How would you describe your character of Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray?
My character is very joyful, she’s very considerate, and I think she’s very observant. And she’s kind of wise before her years, very supportive. She goes on this journey where she could leave her mum in the house, but she takes her mum with her, she takes her friend Penny, and instead of just getting herself on the show, halfway through Act One, she gets herself on Corny Collins, but the show doesn’t stop there. So, she’s very considerate and happy.
How is your second run in this production comparing to your original stint?
It’s different because the first time I did it, it was such an incredible experience. I got to work with an American director who was an assistant to the original director, and he actually come over with the original choreographer, which was amazing. And our show that we did was the Broadway version, which was then the West End version, whereas this second time around, this is different. Last time, we had the original set, we had costumes shipped over etc., whereas for this second run, it’s been amazing because I’ve been there through the whole redesign of costumes. I’ve had input into that so, for example, if there’s shoes that I liked, I’ve asked for them or if I want to wear a specific colour. I’ve had input in a lot of direction, I’ve had a lot more freedom and it’s been a lot more organic, which has been really nice. Each time, I’ve just loved every minute and it’s been the dream role for me, so it’s just been incredible to get to do my dream role again.
What can you tell us about the rest of the cast in Hairspray?
They’re incredible! They’re all absolutely phenomenal! Everyone’s just brought so much to it: there’s so much energy, so much commitment, and it’s amazing to work with such a talented range of people. There are people that have got a lot of experience, and there are people who have just graduated. It’s really nice to get that kind of wisdom from more experienced names on how you can keep doing it eight shows a week, and then to also see the energy from the newer people who have just graduated – it’s really great. We’re only around three weeks into the tour, and already everyone’s just getting on so well. It’s great!
What has been your career highlight so far as a theatre performer?
Probably getting to play this character: Tracy Turnblad is a dream role for me, because I get to act, sing and dance. She’s such an amazing character, she goes through all sorts of emotions, so she’s knocked down emotionally, she’s happy, she has a love scene, she has scenes where she’s in her protest – there’s so much that she does. She dances, which is a really big passion of mine, and I’m quite similar to her as a character, And at some shows, I’ve had people come up to me at the stage door or they’ve Tweeted me, and they’ve said: “You know, I’ve struggled with my weight, and coming to watch this show has really helped me think that I am what I am and inspired me.” She has a really great heart, the show has a lot of meaning behind it, and so it’s a beautiful piece of theatre to be a part of.
Finally, what are the moments which attendees should particularly look out for when watching Hairspray?
Well, the audience always love the ’60s, and you can’t stop the beat because everyone’s always up dancing. People have told me that when they have seen it, there aren’t any weak scenes: it’s so well-written that there’s no song or scene that you’d say “Oh, that could be taken out” or “That’s a bit of a weak link”. The show just keeps going and everything is so entertaining, the time just flies by, and I find that to be the case on the stage as well; the time just goes so quickly! It’s amazing. Oh, and the choreography by Drew McOnie is great, so that’s something to watch out for as well!