'Hairspray Live' continues a long tradition

The cast of NBC's "Hairspray Live!"

Story highlights

  • NBC will air the show Wednesday
  • Waters says everyone can relate to the main character

(CNN)For John Waters, "Hairspray" is the story he keeps returning to.

He wrote and directed the original 1988 film, which spurred a Broadway musical, remade "Hairspray" again as a movie in 2007, wrote the film's sequel and a TV series spinoff that were never made, then later wrote a different "Hairspray" sequel for HBO.
Now, NBC will broadcast "Hairspray Live!" on Wednesday.
    The cast includes Ariana Grande, Kristin Chenoweth, Jennifer Hudson, Martin Short and Harvey Fierstein to reprise the role of Edna Turnblad, which won him a Tony.
    Waters told CNN that Hollywood has been good to him -- and this project, through all of its iterations.
    "It's kind of a 'Hairspray' miracle," Waters said.
    The story follows plus-size Baltimore teen Tracy Turnblad as she becomes a local celebrity and helps to integrate a segregated, TV dance show during the 1960s.
    With themes of racial equality, fame and community, "Hairspray" is resonating at a time of division in the United States.
    Waters said while race relations in America have advanced over the past five decades, there has not been as much progress as many would like.
    He based the script, he said, on his own memories of growing up in segregated Baltimore.
    The idea for the film came in 1985 after he wrote a story for Baltimore Magazine about a reunion of dancers from "The Buddy Deane Show," which aired in the city when he was a teen.
    He credits the lasting relevance of "Hairspray" to its unlikely heroine.
    "The character of Tracy appeals to everybody. Even Trump supporters think of themselves as outsiders, and they won," Waters said.
    Texas native Maddie Baillio, 20, plays Tracy in the new production and agrees with that assessment.
    "She's, like, the ultimate underdog, so everyone can relate to her," Baillio said during an NBC conference call. "I'm happy to be that for everyone."
    Ricki Lake, who played Tracy in the 1988 film, and Marissa Jaret Winokur, who originated the role on Broadway, have both given Baillo some tips.
    "They gave me a lot of good advice," she said. "And they're going to make cameos in the show."
    But Waters won't be able to catch those appearances.
    He'll be appearing that night in Denver in his one man show, "A John Waters Christmas."
    "They can't send me a screener because it's live," he laughed. "I'm going to have to watch it the next morning."