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‘Hairspray’ kids steal the show

The young stars of "Hairspray" discuss the new musical comedy remake of the film that reminds us that people come in all shapes and sizes.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

John Travolta, Queen Latifah, Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Walken are the big stars headlining the musical-comedy “Hairspray,” but the movie is really about the hopes and dreams of kids. And for the kids playing those kids, the movie is really about them.Four of them — Nikki Blonsky, Elijah Kelley, Amanda Bynes and Zac Efron — came to Rockefeller Plaza to be swooned over Wednesday by fans and talk with the TODAY cast about what it’s like to be living a fairy tale.Kelley, Bynes and Efron all have active careers, and Bynes and Efron are already stars, but Blonsky was just an ordinary girl graduating from high school and getting ready for college when she opened a message on a computer at the Long Island ice cream store where she worked. She thought it was about another auditioning hoop she would have to jump through in her attempt to land a role in the film.

Instead, it was the news that she had landed the lead role of Tracy Turnblad.

“This was my ultimate dream,” Bronsky said after watching a tape of herself screaming, holding her face and generally acting as if she had won the lottery, which in a way she had. Except this was a lottery that didn’t depend on a blind draw but on convincing producers and directors through audition tapes that she alone from among thousands of rivals was right for the role.

For Bynes, who at the age of 21 has already been a Nickelodeon host, movie star and fashion designer, it was not just meeting her idol, John Travolta, but actually being in an impromptu sing-along with him.

The cast was doing a night shoot, and it was around four in the morning with everyone just sitting around waiting for the next take when Bynes started singing “Greased Lightning” from “Grease,” Travolta’s first big hit. Travolta, who was dressed in drag as his character, Edna, joined in.

“It was surreal for me, because I’m a big fan of his,” said Bynes, who plays Penny Pingleton. “I called my mother. I texted my friends.”

Kelley is just 20 years old, but he had his first film role in “28 Days” seven years ago and has appeared in the television shows “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Numbers” and “The Shield” and last year played Leroy Wright in the movie “Heavens Fall.”

Kelley plays “Seaweed” in “Hairspray,” and he lights up the screen with his singing and dancing. For him, the dream was learning at the nimble feet of the masters.

“I haven’t had a lot to do with real professional choreography,” he said.

Best in the business“These guys are the best in the business. To be taught by them, to be mentored by them was amazing. They hammered it into our heads for two months before we even shot.”

Efron is just 19, but he’s already a major star from his role in the Disney movie “High School Musical.” Adam Shankman, “Hairspray’s” director, told Newsweek that Efron is “arguably the biggest teen star in America.”

As the seasoned veteran, it was up to Efron to talk about the movie itself — after putting in a plug for his next movie, “High School Musical 2.”

“There’s so many great messages in this movie,” he said. “It’s really about being accepting of all kinds of people, all shapes, sizes and colors. And it’s all about following your dreams. It’s about Tracy and her magic story.

It’s pretty cool, so check it out.”

There was a lot of kidding between the TODAY cast and the kids, with Matt Lauer claiming that he taught Kelley his dance moves when they went clubbing and Kelley grinning and replying, “You’re the ladies’ man.”

But it was Bynes at the end of the segment who got in the final zinger, just after Lauer observed that it had been a discussion between the TODAY cast — “mean age 50” — and the young stars — “mean age 20.”

Quipped Bynes: “I’ve seen you without your shirt, Matt.”

After the segment, the TODAY producers made sure America saw him, too, posting a shot of Lauer at the shore in swim trunks.

The young stars and others in the cast will be back on the plaza at Rockefeller Center Friday morning on TODAY to perform numbers from “Hairspray.”