The star of the upcoming television musical (Dec. 7) is zipping around the Universal Studios backlot in a golf cart, and she’s just spotted a tram packed with tourists heading the other way. You can see the question on the visitors’ faces: Who the heck is Maddie Baillio?
It’s a fair question. The live production of the hit Broadway show is the 20-year-old’s first-ever professional role. She was studying acting at Marymount Manhattan College when she auditioned for the part of Tracy Turnblad, the big-haired teen who dances her way onto national TV and into a fight for racial equality in Baltimore in the 1960s.
Here, the young actor talks about her milkshake consumption, the transformative power of wigs and her refusal to play it cool.
How does it feel to be on the Universal backlot?
It’s magical. It gives me chills coming here every morning knowing that this is where it’s going to happen.
What about your wig? How does it feel to wear it?
When I put that wig on my head, I’m not Maddie anymore. I’m Tracy Turnblad, and I want to sing “Good Morning Baltimore.” I don’t know how else to explain it.
From Ricki Lake to Nicky Blonsky, several actresses have played this role. How is your interpretation different?
It’s different because it’s me — and I’m different.
What’s been the biggest challenge for you so far?
The dancing. I knew it would be the dancing. What I do to overcome that is run on the treadmill every day and sing at the same time. I do it with a milkshake in one hand, because all of the past Tracys have lost so much weight that some of them had to wear fat suits. That’s just not right.
Are you star-struck at all? How do you play it cool around Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Martin Short and the rest of the cast?
I can’t stay cool. It’s embarrassing. The first Broadway show I ever saw was Wicked with Kristin Chenoweth and now I’m starring in a show with her. I’m a big fan girl. There’s no coolness to me whatsoever.
OPENING ACTSHairspray Live! is the latest salvo in the TV musical trend. A look back at the others:
The Sound of Music Live! (2013)
NBC revived the long-gone TV musical with Carrie Underwood playing Maria von Trapp.
Peter Pan Live! (2014)
Girls co-star Allison Williams portrayed the classic tale’s airborne hero.
The Wiz Live! (2015)
Shanice Williams played Dorothy Gale in this African-American spin on the classic Oz.
Grease: Live (2016)
Fox struck gold with its own live TV musical featuring Julianne Hough and Aaron Tveit.