‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ star comes to Shubert Theatre for Broadway's 'Hairspray'

“Welcome to the 60s” - (from L) Niki Metcalf as “Tracy Turnblad,” Andrew Levitt (aka Nina West) as “Edna Turnblad” and company in Hairspray.

“Welcome to the 60s” - (from L) Niki Metcalf as “Tracy Turnblad,” Andrew Levitt (aka Nina West) as “Edna Turnblad” and company in Hairspray.

Contributed by Jeremy Daniel

Andrew Levitt — also known as Nina West from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” — will be making his Shubert Theatre debut when Broadway’s Tony Award-winning musical comedy “Hairspray” comes to New Haven from June 24 to 26.

The musical tells the story of teenager Tracy Turnblad (Niki Metcalf), who becomes an overnight sensation when her dance moves win her a role on "The Corny Collins Show." Levitt stars in the Shubert’s production as Tracy’s mother, Edna, who at first objects to her daughter’s appearance on the dance show. For Levitt, taking on the role comes with a sense of responsibility.

“When they asked me if I wanted to be part of this, I was like ‘Wait what?'” said Levitt. “For me, it’s an interesting time to tell the story. It’s so important to talk about race and have conversations that are still relevant from 1962."

While the show offers multiple lessons to the audience, Levitt said what he finds most valuable in the story of “Hairspray” is the notion of owning who you are and doing so with joy.

“I think the importance of the queer subcultural, subtext, subversive nature of the show is really important,” he said. “The show is about allowing people to see themselves, finding or providing for themselves and other people using their voice to provide space for others. That’s really the story.”

The role of Edna in “Hairspray” has traditionally been played by a man. Actors like John Travolta, Divine and Harvey Fierstein have played the part, whether on Broadway, NBC's "Hairspray Live!" or the original film.

Levitt is no stranger to assuming the traits of a female character for the sake of performance. Levitt started doing drag in the early spring of 2001 when he was a senior in college. He auditioned to be in “RuPaul’s Drag Race” for eight seasons starting in 2009 and was finally cast in 2018. 

“I never gave up on myself and am so grateful to have started in Ohio, and being on 'Drag Race' which now has led me to do a Broadway tour of an amazing show,” he said.

With his background in drag as Nina West, Levitt said he does not get lost playing Edna in “Hairspray.” He wants the audience to believe he is Tracy’s mom and see how much she cares for Tracy and wants her to be happy and to protect her.

“The audience knows a man is playing Edna,” he said. “But it is my job to grab the audience’s hand and let me lead them into the story and say ‘But there is more here.’”

Edna is not a person in drag, she is a mom, according to Levitt, and when he is in “Edna mode,” his job is to really dial in and tell the whole of the story.

“I have to be rooted and grounded in telling the truth and think like a mother,” he said. “Drag is a fantasy. Drag is this giant explosion of neon technicolor untruths.”

Tickets to see Levitt as Edna Turnblad in "Hairspray" at the Shubert Theatre from June 24 to 26 are currently available.