Ben Neutze chats with the Star of Hairspray, Trevor Ashley.
Ben Neutze chats with the Star of Hairspray, Trevor Ashley
Before every performance of Hairspray, Trevor Ashley listens to his favourite music from the 1960s. Diana Ross and the Supremes, Shirley Bassey and Petula Clark are some of the divas who provide the inspiration to help him get into the mindset of the era. He spends an hour putting on his makeup, fat suit, costume and wig to transform for his performance as the larger than life Edna Turnblad.
His performance has earned him rave reviews, with many critics surprised that a man known mainly for his impersonations brought such a truthful, original interpretation to the role.
But despite the fact that Trevor’s was one of the names on everybody’s lips as the man to bring this woman to life long before casting was announced, he says the odds were against him throughout the whole audition process.
“I was quite nervous about my age, because I would have to be one of the youngest Ednas to ever be cast,” he says. “I ended up doing five callbacks. On the final day it was down to six of us and all of them were well known and much older and actually much fatter than me.”
“I went in thinking I really didn’t stand a chance. There were a lot of celebs and everybody was dressed in drag, and we were there for about eight hours. It was a very funny audition.”
Trevor has now played Edna for almost 350 performances in Melbourne and Sydney. He says that it’s wonderful to play a character who has a huge journey and such a dramatic transformation over the course of the show.
“She’s agrophobic and very nervous but she finds her confidence again,” he says. “Tracy inspires her to become the person she always was, but somehow lost along the way.”
“It’s a wonderful role to play because she’s so gorgeous,” he says. “She’s the Mum everybody wants.”
To prepare for the role, Trevor looked to actors who have played Edna in the past to come up with his own interpretation.
“Because we are using the Broadway script, a lot of what Harvey (Fierstein) did was very influential on me,” he says. “Because the role was really crafted for him, and a lot of the stuff in the script is very Harvey-esque, I think capturing that sort of Jewish shtick that he does was really important.”
“They really softened Edna for the film that John Travolta did. They made her very soft so that nothing nasty would ever come out of her mouth. Divine was at the other end of the scale completely, and Harvey is really the in-betweener.”
“I think I took a lot from Harvey, but not vocally obviously, cos I’d be singing very low then!”
Trevor thinks that Hairspray is a show that has universal appeal because of its energetic, memorable score, sly sense of humour and positive message.
“The story is all about that outsider who gets made fun of and ends up making good and having her dreams all come true,” he says. “I think that deep down everybody feels like an outsider at some point, or not the prettiest one, or not the thinnest one. It just speaks to everyone who comes to the show.”
But in spite of a great critical and great audience response night after night, the producers have just announced that the show will end its Sydney season on October 9.
Trevor says, quite frankly, that despite the fact audiences are loving the show, the timing of the Sydney season hasn’t been ideal, leaving Hairspray to compete with other shows to draw in audience numbers.
“It’s had to compete with both Jersey Boys and Mary Poppins. It’s been a long time since Sydney has had three big musicals running at the same time,” he says.
Trevor already has a number of projects in the pipeline after Hairspray, including a show at the Seymour Centre in December and the revival of Showqueen.
The first guest will be Alison Jiear. “She’ll be back in Australia to do a special one off show for our launch back into Showqueen,” he says.
With all this and much more coming up, Trevor is going to be a very busy man. As Hairspray draws to a close, the next chapter of Trevor’s career is sure to be just as exciting and fulfilling. Book tickets for the last weeks of Hairspray HERE