Just a few weeks ago, Maddie Baillio (a 20-year-old performer from League City, TX) finished her sophomore year of college at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City, and this morning she sat down on The Today Show to be introduced as NBC’s leading lady, Tracy Turnblad, in Hairspray Live!
Immediately following her television appearance alongside Harvey Fierstein, who will reprise his Tony-winning turn as Edna Turnblad (and also rework the show’s book for television), Baillio met with the press at NBC Studios in New York City. We sat with the star to chat about her hobbies outside of theatre, breaking boundaries on Broadway (in one of the most diverse seasons for theatre) and keeping the secret from everyone (including her family).
Congratulations! Are you so excited?
Maddie Baillio: I am so, so, so excited! It’s crazy. This is going to be a crazy change for me. I was just finishing my finals in college two weeks ago, and now I’m Tracy. It’s so surreal.
Tell me about your audition. Let’s start there.
MB: Well, I almost didn’t audition because I was so nervous. This was my first audition in New York, and I woke up at like 3 AM—no alarm clock or anything. I just woke up, and I said, “I am going to do this. I am going to this audition. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t.” So I got up and went. I wasn’t expecting so many girls because I got there at 6:45 AM, and the call was at 10. I was walking around the block, and I saw so many girls who looked like me and who sounded like me, so it was nerve-wracking, but I was so excited. I was number 344 in line, which is now my lucky number. We were all asked to prepare a short portion of “Good Morning Baltimore,” so I prepared my short portion, and I was very confident with it, and then Bernie [Tesley of Telsey + Co.] asked me to sing the end of the song, which I did not know! I totally screwed up the words. I don’t know if he noticed though, but actually, [here is] a funny story: The only time I’ve ever forgotten the words onstage before was when I was in a little competition when I was in 5th grade, and I sang “Good Morning Baltimore,” and it was the exact same part that Bernie asked me to sing. That’s the exact part that I forgot the words to when I was younger.
When did you first get to know Hairspray? You were young when it first came out on Broadway.
MB: I’m not sure exactly what age I saw Hairspray, but I saw the movie first—the  remake [of] the musical. I saw it in theatres, and I fell in love with Tracy because I [thought], “That’s a girl that’s just like me.” I wanted to play Tracy ever since then. I’ve always wanted to do musical theatre…and there aren’t many roles for girls like me and my body type, and Tracy doesn’t let anything stop her. She doesn’t let anything get in her way, and I feel like I’m the same. She’s just so optimistic.
Who was the first person you told when you got the news?
MB: My mom! I told my mom [when] Kenny Leon, the director, was in the room. I thought that she was going to freak out a little bit more… But she was very excited. She works in HR…. She just said, “Oh, I’m so excited for you, darling.” I’m like, “Mom, scream or something!” [Laughs.] I just told my mom and my dad. I didn’t tell my siblings. I didn’t tell any of my friends.
You didn’t tell your siblings?!
MB: No! My little sister has a mouth on her! [Laughs.]
Not one friend?!
MB: I did not tell, not one friend.
Have you heard from anyone yet?
MB: No! I haven’t. But [my phone is] buzzing right now. No one at Marymount [knew]. They all knew that I was auditioning, but I have been keeping my mouth shut. I don’t know how!
Tell me a little bit more about yourself. What are your hobbies outside of theatre?
MB: I like to sleep. [Laughs.] I really like to watch TV shows. Maya and Marty, Martin Short’s new show, is hilarious. You should watch it if you’re not already.
Do you plan to finish school?
MB: I just finished my sophomore year of college, and I’m taking summer classes online right now until rehearsals start in October in L.A. I’m planning to take a leave of absence, but I definitely want to finish school.
What are you nervous about?
MB: I’m not really nervous about much, and I think that kind of makes me nervous a little. I’m just so excited to work with all of these amazing people. I am dying to work with Harvey Fierstein, who will be playing my mom. I met Harvey Fierstein for the first time today on The Today Show. [We had] amazing chemistry. He hasn’t given me any advice yet, but he is hilarious just like Martin Short, who will be playing my dad, Wilbur. And, Corny Collins will be played by Derek Hough. And, Jennifer Hudson, who is hot off her Broadway debut in The Color Purple, will be playing Motormouth Maybelle, and she’s going to steal that show! She’s incredible.
— Maddie (@MaddieBaillio) June 7, 2016
Hairspray is about defying the odds and the rise of the underdog. Do you feel like theatre of today is breaking boundaries? Or, do you feel like actors are still limited by their “type”?
MB: I totally think we’re breaking the boundaries, and funny that you said that… I was in my college production of Dracula, and I was actually Dracula. I think [Hairspray] has so many important themes that are extremely relevant today, like body positivity and the theme of race. It sheds light on all of these themes beautifully.
Did you ever feel confined by your type?
MB: Totally, yeah. It’s [only] recently that I totally started loving myself and my body and who I am. Tracy has always loved herself, which I think is so inspiring, so I’m excited to play her.
When were you first bit by the theatre bug?
MB: I was first bit by the theatre bug when I was about ten years old. My mom enrolled me in children’s theatre, and we did The Wizard of Oz, and I wanted so badly to be Dorothy, but…they ended up casting me as Miss Gulch, who is [the woman in Kansas] before she [becomes] the Wicked Witch. But that’s when I first fell in love with theatre.
Go-to audition song?
MB: “Murder He Says” [by Frank Loesser] from [the 1943 film] Happy Go Lucky [performed by] Betty Hutton. Not many people sing it.
MB: Well, this was one of them, for sure. Actually, I think this might be my only dream role. I just want to keep performing. I’ll play anything!