Hairspray is coming back to the Southland, playing April 6-11 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, and stepping into Edna Turnblad’s high-heeled shoes this time is Greg London.  With a theater background that spans drama (A Streetcar Named Desire), Shakespeare (title roles in both Richard III and Macbeth), comedy (Greater Tuna, Sordid Lives) and of course musical comedy, Greg is the very definition of versatility as an actor.  We were delighted to chat with Greg as he prepares for the Southern California leg of the Hairspray tour.

Hi Greg. Looking over your résumé, I see you’ve studied and performed in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Washington, D.C., Virginia, China, and California (and probably other places as well).  So first off, where did you grow up? 

I grew up in a small town in South Carolina called Kershaw. That time was split with living in Charleston, S.C.  

“Symphony Kid” Greg London, on his way to catching the acting bug.

How did this Southern boy become interested in acting? 

I caught the acting bug when I started doing plays in the 4th grade. I was a symphony kid and loved music, art, and theater.  

Like so many of us!  Where do you consider home now? 

My current home base is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Since you’ve been so many places, I’m curious to know, if you could live and work as an actor anywhere in the world, where would that be and why? 

I’d live in Manhattan and vacation in South Carolina.  I love being in the heart of NY theater.

Greg taking his bows as Richard III

Next to Edna in Hairspray, do you have any particularly favorite role that you’ve played and would love to play again?  

loved playing Richard III and Macbeth.  I would really love to play Sweeney Todd again.

A couple other Greg London performances. (L.) As Brother Boy in Sordid Lives (with Alex Caps) and (R.) as Bertha Bumiller in Greater Tuna (with Robbie Gay)

Wow, from Shakespeare to Sondheim to Shaiman.  Quite a range of roles! Speaking of Hairspray, this is your second time with the Hairspray tour. The first time out, you understudied Edna, nd got to perform the role forty times. One of the stops in the tour was China.  How did the Chinese audiences respond to something as American as Hairspray?  

They loved the show! Many of the cultural references were lost but the heart of the show was certainly felt by the Chinese audiences.

Greg atop the Great Wall Of China

What was the best part of the China leg of the tour for you? 

Bobsledding down the side of the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu!

Greg in full Edna regalia

Now that’s something you can’t do in New York or Myrtle Beach! Getting back to Hairspray, you’ve returned to the tour now, and this time the role of Edna is yours to play nightly. How do you go about making a role that’s identified with either Divine or Harvey Fierstein or John Travolta your own? 

As with any role, I feel it is important to show deference to the artists that branded it.  I always start with the heart of a character. Who do they love? What do they dream about?

Greg opening a present from PawPaw and Grandma Edna

What particular Greg London qualities do you hope to be bringing to the role?  

I grew up with several larger than life women. They were all funny, brassy, and sassy with enormous spirits. I hope to channel some of those energies into my Edna.  My grandmother’s name was Edna and she is my greatest resource.

What a great coincidence!  I’m sure she’d be proud of her grandson paying tribute to her in Hairspray, especially since it’s one of the biggest hits of the past decade. Over 2500 performances on Broadway, and still touring nationally eight years after its Broadway opening. What do you think it is about Hairspray that’s made it such an audience favorite?  

It’s first and foremost an underdog love story and I think we all can identify with that.  It’s also about an irrepressible spirit in Tracy that we root for throughout the story. Finally, it succeeds in letting us feel for a moment that despite difference, we can be seen, heard, and felt inside the context of a societal ideology that often strives to limit us as “other.” And it’s just downright fun!

I see that the Hairspray tour is playing a number of one-night-only engagements. How tough is that for you as an actor? 

Every tour has moments in their schedule where one-nighters seem to pile up. While it can be tough, it really is a great test of skill to work towards offering the same show to audiences who don’t even know about the tough schedule as the shows where you might be a bit more rested. 

Do you notice any differences in the one-night only audiences for whom the arrival of Hairspray in town is truly a major event? 

YES, they are certainly hungry for the experience and are very vocal in their appreciation about it! It’s often quite moving.

Now you get to spend a whole week in the O.C. and do the show in the gorgeous Orange County Performing Arts Center. Have you performed in Southern California before?  

I loved playing in California in year two of the tour. It was a part of the country in which I had not spent much time.  I thought it was very beautiful and even considered moving at some point. 

Anything you’re looking forward to doing while in the O.C./L.A. area?  

I’ll probably visit Disneyland.  I worked for Disney World but never made it to the original mouse.

I see that you’re also a playwright. Are you working on anything currently that you’d like to tell our readers about?  

I have been working on a new musical called Mouse. It’s a coming of age musical comedy set in 1958 in a small southern town about a girl who has never left her house.  She and her brother have been raised by an agoraphobic Grandmother and discover everything they have learned so far about the world outside is not true.

I would love to see that!. I get goose bumps just from your description.  On a quite different note, Greg, you also do sketch comedy. Can you tell us a bit about that, and about how it compares with doing a big-stage, big-cast musical like Hairspray?  

Sketch comedy is great prep for musical comedy.  I love sketch comedy because it requires a certain amount of fearlessness.

Thanks Greg for taking time out of what must be a very hectic life these days to answer our questions. Looking forward to seeing you in Hairspray on Opening Night! 

Thanks so much for these lovely questions! I look forward to meeting you! 

GREG LONDON has toured internationally in Hairspray and The Fantasticks, and nationally in Hairspray, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Discovering Columbus. Off-Off Broadway he appeared in SPURN. Greg’s many other theatrical credits include the title roles in Richard III and Macbeth, appearing in Richard III with Stacey Keach, directed by Michael Kahn; and in Othello with Avery Brooks and Andre Braugher at the Shakespeare Theatre, Washington D.C.; with The Lost Colony in Manteo, North Carolina; and most recently with the legendary Lynn Redgrave under the direction of famed British director Jane McCulloch. Greg created the role of Peter in Los Alamos by Pulitzer Prize Winner Lanford Wilson, directed by Marshall W. Mason. On television, he has appeared on Law And Order, In The Heat Of The Night, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Designing Women. Greg attended Arizona State University, and a professional internship at The Shakespeare Theatre. He was the national winner of the 2006 Eugene O’Neill Award for Dramatic writing and currently serves as the Artistic Director of the Palace Theatre in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

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