Nina West (Andrew Levitt) at Edna Turnbald, backstage at Hairspray
Nina West (aka Andrew Levitt) backstage on the national tour of ‘Hairspray.’ Photo provided by Nina West

Andrew Levitt (aka Nina West) proves that being nice pays off. The actor-author-drag superstar was famously bestowed with the Miss Congeniality title on RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 11. Fans of the show weren’t the only ones keeping an eye on Levitt. The creative team and producers of Hairspray thought Levitt’s warm demeanor and stage presence could be the perfect fit for a national tour of the Tony Award-winning musical.

Levitt steps into the sensible heels originally worn by Divine in John Waters’ original 1988 film, then Harvey Fierstein in the 2002 Broadway musical. Portraying 1960s Baltimore housewife and mother Edna Turnblad, Levitt has the opportunity to examine through a musical theater lens some of the prejudices and injustices that feel just as relevant today.

Queerty caught up with Levitt to find out what kind of antics have emerged while touring and what future LGBTQ+ collaborations are on his radar.

The biggest thing I’ve learned from playing Edna Turnblad is…

A housecoat and a pair of scuffies can change the world. To be honest, this character has taught me a lot, and by the time I am done, I will have spent almost two years with her. I think her spirit, her heart, and her eventual willingness to bloom speak to everyone. She is a lesson in never giving up on yourself or your dream.

The most surprising thing I’ve discovered on tour is…

I think the most surprising thing that I have discovered on tour is that I love a chicken salad from Applebee’s. 

Nina West holds a can of hairspray
Nina West (aka Andrew Levitt). Photo provided by Nina West

“You can’t stop the beat” — but the one thing we should stop doing is…

Taking away rights from LGBTQIA+ Americans. (glares at the GOP)

When I saw __________ onstage, I knew I wanted to be an actor.

I was transformed when I saw the character of Macavity on stage. I was probably four or five years old at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio. It was the national tour of CATS. The costumes were tight. I was transfixed.

My biggest Hairspray onstage mishap happened when…

We have carbon dioxide cans that go off for a special effect at the end of the show. Well, they began to leak on stage, and the entire theatre started to smell — it was a distinctive odor, a terrible stench — just as I was revealed and came out of the hairspray can. Edna says, “I’ve been stuck in the can since lunch, and I wouldn’t rush right in there after me if I was you.” As I said the line, the audience was yacking, and holding their noses, and waving their programs. It was so funny and awful and ridiculous. I really broke character in that show.

The Nina West Foundation has raised more than $2 million. If we could double that, the first thing I’d do is…

Issue grants to organizations on the front lines of this fight here in the US to help us fight for our equality and access to healthy and happy lives.

I can sing. I can act. I can dance. But I can’t _________…

Sew. We all saw that pretty clearly on Season 11.

The LGBTQ+ person I’d love to collaborate with is…

I would love to collaborate with Our Lady J, Michael R. Jackson, Billy Porter, Harvey Fierstein, Raven, Ryan Murphy, Marc Shaiman, and Scott Whitman… I mean, there are so many queer artists who I would just jump at the chance to work with. Why? They TELL OUR STORIES in bright, real, true, and sometimes full camp ways.

Hairspray is currently on tour, with upcoming performances in Costa Mesa (through April 30) and Los Angeles (May 5-21). For a full schedule visit, hairspraytour.com.

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