Gay performers Alan Kilpatrick and Glenn Rainey aren’t technically joined at the hip, but they’ve acted a lot like it lately. Their collaboration in the musical “Hairspray” (opening at The Strand Theatre this week courtesy of Atlanta Lyric Theatre) is their third in the past nine months.
In “Hairspray,” they play husband and wife. Kilpatrick plays Wilbur Turnblad and Rainey plays the immortal Edna Turnblad. Rainey joins a list of heavyweights who have played that role onstage including Tony winner Harvey Fierstein, Bruce Vilanch and “Cheers” star George Wendt.
Rainey actually auditioned to understudy for Edna when he was living in New York. Although he has played women before, this is unique.
“I’ve had to tap into my feminist side, and I’ve done it before, but dancing in heels – that’s a different story,” says Rainey.
“Hairspray” (based on the 1988 John Waters film) is set in the ‘60s, amongst racial unrest. “The Corny Collins Show,” the dance show of the time, is all white, save for one day a month, and spunky teenager Tracey Turnblad is determined to change that.
Rainey feels that “Hairspray” works on so many levels, besides its great score.
“You have a gay man playing a female character,” he says. “It’s about the struggle of black people being accepted; it’s about the struggle of overweight people being accepted. It’s an acceptance clause the entire show. That’s the message — no matter who you are, we are all here in it together.”
Back in September, Kilpatrick directed Rainey in Aurora’s “Kiss Me Kate,” then they collaborated again in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at the Lyric last month.
The duo will work together for a fourth time later this year in the Lyric’s “The Music Man,” where Kilpatrick will star and Rainey will direct.
“When I heard that Glenn was playing Edna, I said I’d give anything to play his husband,” says Kilpatrick. “He’s a really sweet person and a true professional.”
Top photo: The message of ‘Hairspray’ is ‘no matter who you are, we are all here in it together,’ says Glenn Rainey, who stars as Edna Turnblad. (Courtesy photo)