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Kenny Leon Discusses Directing Hairspray Live! in the Wake of the Election

first_img Tony-winning director Kenny Leon will give audiences an opportunity not to escape our political climate, but to process it through art and storytelling when Hairspray Live! airs on NBC on December 7. The 1960s-set musical centers on a fight for representation and social justice—a fight that persists in 2016.When asked at a press conference on November 16 why now is the time to present Hairspray, Leon responded, “Where were you last week? It’s actually a blessing to be in the throngs of this after [the presidential election]; it emphasized the role of artists in our world. It gave me an opportunity to talk to the company about the importance of what we do.”While Leon describes the show as a “feel-good musical about inclusion,” its call for justice is no less resonant. Motormouth Maybelle’s marching cry “I Know Where I’ve Been,” to be performed in the telecast by Jennifer Hudson, asserts, “There’s a dream in the future; there’s a struggle that we have yet to win” and “To sit still would be a sin.” The final anthem “You Can’t Stop the Beat” is a reminder that progress is both constant and vital.“We are aware of the Black Lives Matter protests. In subtle ways, you layer that in,” Leon explained in a press call in October. “Hairspray is still relevant because there are still places where people are not looked at equally. These historic stories give us an opportunity to say something about now.”As Leon explores ways to indicate a contemporary relevance in his presentation, the text speaks for itself in many cases. The director’s outlook mirrors the sentiment expressed in cautiously hopeful songs like “I Know Where I’ve Been.” “We haven’t dealt with our original sin of slavery,” says Leon. “Once we have dealt with that and our history adequately, we can look at our future in beautiful ways.” Kenny Leon on the set of ‘Hairspray Live!'(Photo: Alexander Goyco) View Commentslast_img read more