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Hairspray

You can’t stop the beat of this Tony Award-winning musical sensation!

John Pinette

Age: 41

Currently: Making his Broadway debut as the big, blondish Edna Turnblad in the smash hit musical Hairspray at the Neil Simon Theatre.

Hometown: Malden, Massachusetts. Pinette acted in high school the last role he held in a musical prior to Hairspray was Bud Frump in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in his sophomore year, but chose to enter into a more practical profession upon completion of his education. "My family told me to get some 'marketable skills,'" Pinette says. "So I became an accountant. I wasn't a good accountant. My job would be to make the auditors laugh to distract them. I was there for 6 months, I gave my two weeks notice and ran out of the building." Pinette was off to Boston to become a stand-up comic.

Nice Work If You Can Get It: Pinette struggled for a while on the Beantown comedy circuit which just happened to include another current Hairspray cast member, Kevin Meaney before landing a gig as Frank Sinatra's opening act in an early 1990s tour. That led to him headlining comic clubs, which helped him to get acting jobs he was a series regular on Parker Lewis Can't Lose and his film work includes Junior, Dear God and Duets.

Welcome to the Musical World: Pinette was appearing at Caroline's in New York when he got the call to come in for Hairspray. "I had seen Hairspray and thought it was great," he explains. "But I thought it was way out of the realm of what I could do. I just hadn't been schooled." After two call backs he won the role of Edna on the road. Three months into the tour they asked him to come to Broadway. "It's almost, but not quite, as much of a miracle as the 1980 hockey gold medal. It's a really amazing thing to happen to me."

The Grind: Most people don't need to exercise in order to play a rotund housewife, but Pinette's time on the elliptical trainer is essential to his performance. "The shows go so much better when I do it—I have more energy," he states. "When I started on it, I could do five minutes, but I would have to cry for 2 1/2 of those minutes. No one wants to see that at the gym. Now I can do 45-60 minutes. I wouldn't take Pilates. I wouldn't do Bikram Yoga—you know that yoga where they steam you like a dumpling? I couldn't do that! But the elliptical is the linchpin. It helps me perform."

Mama, I'm A Big Girl Now: Pinette has the stomach to play Edna, but he has to wear a fake butt and hips during the show. Then there are the feminine clothes, makeup and wigs he must also don! While he played his own character's sister in Dear God in a scene that was sadly cut and has dressed up in drag for comedy sketches, Hairspray requires a lot more woman than he has ever been. "I've written quite a bit of stand up from playing a woman," he laughs. "I thought I had a healthy respect for women when I started this. But having to dress like a woman six days a week for nine months—well the men just don't know what we go through to look beautiful. My next comedy special will probably be John Pinette: More Than a Woman. Or John Pinette: Don't Call Me Mama!"

Breath of Fresh Mountain Air: Pinette had seen Harvey Fiersten, Michael McKean and Bruce Vilanch play Edna, but he didn't believe that imitating any of them was a good idea. He tries to put his own character in the housecoat—each night making the show a little different by improvising a quip during "Timeless to Me." These lines tend to have costar Stephen DeRosa who played Wilbur with Pinette on the road and now appears with him at the Neil Simon in hysterics. "I try to do something different every 'Timeless.' Sometimes Stephen laughs because he thinks 'Oh my god! What is he going to do?!?" Sometimes he laughs because it's funny. And sometimes he laughs because I scared him!"

You Can't Stop the Beat: Pinette knows he is not destined for a career in tuners, but he is loving doing one now. "It's a great way to live life—musical theater. If you make a mistake, you have to fix it and move on. You can never go back to the previous scene. You have to keep moving ahead. So it is a great way to be."

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