Linda Hart, Hairspray’s “Miss Baltimore Crabs,” Developing a Musical for Herself
By Kenneth Jones
June 24, 2003
Hairspray actress Linda Hart told Playbill On-Line she is planning a musical project for herself that will draw on the performing stories she has accumulated over the years, from singing gospel with her family to serving as one of Bette Midler’s “Harlettes.” The varied lives Hart has led — as a gospel-singin’ daughter whose Texas parents were traveling tent preachers, as backup in Midler’s bawdy concerts and as a Broadway star in Anything Goes and Hairspray — should provide fertile soil for musical exploration not only of character, but of changing times, diverse places and distinct musical styles.
After she leaves the role of Velma Von Tussle in Broadway’s Hairspray July 13, Hart and her husband are taking a vacation. She said she’ll use that time to put her thoughts together about the show, which she’d like to call Hart Break Hotel.
Hart said she’ll draw on friends and family as collaborators (her brother, Larry Hart, for one, penned the musical, Sisterella), and that she’ll start the process with a one-woman act to test material. She thinks the show will use new and existing songs.
“To tell this story properly, it would have to have all kinds of music,” Hart explained. “It wouldn’t be all gospel music, because this story is not all gospel.”
And just what is her story?
“I was born into a singing family and I grew up all my life singing: I sang at church seven nights a week ’til I was about 18 years old,” Hart explained.
By the time she was a teenager, she had attended 17 different schools, and of the verge of high school her parents gave her a gift: They said she could attend any high school she wanted. Hart read somewhere that Carol Burnett went to Hollywood High School. So her mother and brothers moved from Detroit — where the family’s Liberty Temple still operates, run by her dad, Ralph Hart — to L.A.
At Hollywood High, she caught the acting bug, and her gospel past — including recording Grammy-nominated albums with the Harts — would start falling away, though her faith remained.
“You can’t be an actress without some faith,” she said. “You never know about your next job. You’re always wondering: All right, Lord, we did that — now what?”
Hart said she always had the support of her parents, even when she told them she was going to be a harlot — er, Harlette, for Bette Midler’s Divine Madness and Detour concerts.
“I’ll never forget the day, telling my father: ‘Daddy you’re not gonna believe this, I’ve become a Harlette with Bette Midler!’,” the actress said. “My mother said, ‘Harlot? You mean like in the Bible?’ I said it was ‘kind of a spoof on being a harlot.’ They said that wasn’t funny. They’d never heard of Bette Midler. It was a stretch, and I had never been a backup singer, but I knew I would learn things from Bette Midler. I was like showbusiness boot camp.”
A nice girl who sung gospel touring with Bette Midler? Was it raunchy?
“God yes!,” Hart said with a laugh. “But it was the Bette Midler show and not the Linda Hart show. What I didn’t learn from my mother and father, I learned form Bette Midler.”
Having such a rich musical background, is it especially rewarding for Hart to perform in a musical like Hairspray or is a play like Gemini, in which she appeared for Second Stage Theatre, more enticing?
“I grew up singing, so the thrill of it for me was becoming an actress,” Hart explained. “Sometimes when you grow up doing something, you don’t really think of it as anything special. Everybody sang in my family, everybody played instruments. It was like the white Jackson 5! Acting depends on the part: I had a blast doing Bunny Weinberger in Gemini. I think in a musical you have to be more regimented in your schedule. I go out less at night, I try not to talk as much in the daytime. Being in a musical is like being in vocal Olympics. You have to stay in shape. You can do a straight play with a sore throat, you can do a play with the flu — really feeling crummy — but you can’t sing if you’re sick. A musical is much more work and in a way more gratifying because you get to sing and dance and act, but you never lose sight of the fact that you are constantly in training.”