The transformation of Shane Jacobson into Edna Turnblad, the housebound matriarch of the stage show hairspray, is meant to take about 25 minutes, but today runs closer to an hour. It’s the first dress rehearsal for the musical set in 1962 Baltimore, and Jacobson isn’t just going the full Edna, he’s also got to get rid of the full beard before the makeover can even begin.
“There’s a small team of panel beaters that come in and make this happen,” he says while meticulously running an electric shaver over his face to remove every last bit of stubble.
Jacobson, who is best known for his knockabout turns as dunny plumber Kenny and pie-munching cop Barry in Jack Irishas well as his love of muscle cars, will spend a good chunk of the next few months with make-up artists and costumiers in this poky sliver of a room backstage at the Regent Theatre, a building where all the grandness is definitely out front .
“I feel naked without a beard, I really do,” he says as the last of his shadow disappears, until 5 o’clock tomorrow anyway. “If I could grow hair over my eyes and nose, if I could be Teen Wolf, I would.”
Now make-up artist Beth Haywood can start work. First she makes her eyebrows disappear – not for good, just beneath a healthy daubing of wax. Then the foundation goes on, lots of it. Next are the false eyelashes, the eyeliner, the lipstick. Finally, it’s time for the wig – and today it’s Edna’s glamorous outdoor do, the one she dons when she finally manages to overcome her shame over her body size and leave the house.
But even for a natural showman like Jacobson, some things are off limits, and we’re ushered from the room at this stage; apparently being photographed while stripped naked so he can slip into a female bodysuit is where he draws the line. Funny that.
Edna has always been played by a man, from Divine in John Waters’ 1988 film to Harvey Fierstein in the original 2002 Broadway production, to John Travolta in the 2007 film based on the musical based on the film. But according to Matt Lenz, who was associate director on that first Broadway show and is in Australia to direct this revival, which opens on the 20th anniversary of its New York debut, it is not really a drag role.
“I think it’s an acting role. It just happens to be played by a man,” he says. “Over the years we’ve thought, ‘Well, why don’t we just cast a woman?’ But the John Waters aspect of it, that slightly warped perception of the world, would somehow be lost.”