Can’t Stop the Beat: Catching up with HAIRSPRAY’s Emmanuelle Zeesman and Helene Britany

Broadways’ Tony Award winning musical Hairspray makes its return to Philadelphia this month. Two of the tours cast members- Emmanuelle Zeesman (Prudy Pingleton/Gym Teacher/Matron) and Helene Britany (Shelley) – spoke with Phindie about their roles and the most memorable moments so far.

Debra Danese: Where were you when you got the news you were cast in Hairspray?

Emmanuelle Zeesman: I was living with my aunt and uncle in Massachusetts when I found out. My uncle built a big, beautiful house in the forest there and I screamed so loud that it rang through the whole house. Even the dog started barking with me.

Helene Britany: I was at home. I got a call from my agent saying I was getting the offer! I started crying immediately.  

Britany Helene

DD: Who was the first person you told? 

EZ: The first person I told is my incredible husband. We’re the luckiest humans on earth because we get to tour together. The first thing I said was, “Ahhh! I got it! Find a job on it too!” So if you come see Hairspray, make sure to say hi to the handsome, smiley man at the merchandise booth.

HB: I told my boyfriend and then called my parents! 

DD: What’s your favorite moment in the show to watch from the wings? 

EZ: There are many incredible moments that I get to watch. The one that stands out for me is right before my last entrance as Prudy. Kaléa Leverette (Little Inez) threatens to grab the crown from Kaelee Albritton (Amber Von Tussle.) She then does a jump/grab and Will Savarese (Link Larkin) catches her. It’s my favorite moment because she’s the smallest person in the cast and he’s a giant. She gets so much air, that from my angle, it looks like her entire body is wrapped around his huge arm. The physical comedy in the show is exquisite. 

HB: Honestly, I have so many favorite moments that are all onstage with all my friends. We come up with the funniest side stories and bits. Every performance we have a chance to switch it up if we want to, which we usually do.

Emmanuelle Zeesman

DD: What is one pre-show ritual you never skip?

EZ: My favorite ritual is actually not at pre-show, but after intermission. All the women are preset with their hands leaning out behind jail cell bars. As the music of Act 2 begins, I get to run across the stage in front of the bars giving high fives to all my friends. It really pumps me up and puts a smile on everyone’s face. 

HB: I always chug a LOT of water before the show and during. 

DD: Which song most sticks in your head after a show?

EZ: In my humble opinion, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” is the best finale number of any musical, ever. It’s not only addictive, but uplifting and never fails to uplift me even at the end of a very long week. The audiences are singing with us and dancing in the aisles. After the show, when I visit my husband at the merchandise booth, everyone is still singing “You Can’t Stop the Beat”, even myself. And it makes me feel connected to them even if they don’t recognize me without my wigs and makeup. 

HB: Probably “You Can’t Stop the Beat” because it’s the last song we perform and we sing it so much!

Hairspray will be appearing at the Miller Theater (formerly Merriam Theater) on the Kimmel Cultural Campus May 17–22, 2022. For information, go to

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