7 reasons why 'Hairspray' is more revolutionary than it seems.

It's basically impossible not to love "Hairspray." Just try not loving it, and you will see you can't.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

Indeed, the musical, which follows Baltimore teenager Tracy Turnblad's quest to integrate "The Corny Collins Show" in an era when TV was still segregated and to win the heart of the hunky Link Larkin over the objections of the evil Von Tussle mother-daughter squad, features an appealing, diverse cast, delightfully throwback choreo, and a closing number so soul-soaringly iconic that it's been duplicated and parodied ad infinitum.


But the show's biggest, most hidden asset? Beneath its bubblegum exterior, "Hairspray" has always been sneakily revolutionary — which makes it incredibly relevant in 2016.

It speaks to the challenges we face in uncertain times and how to meet those challenges head-on.

Here's a highly incomplete list of what makes "Hairspray" so special — and timely.

1. "Hairspray" features an unapologetically fat female main character who feels great about herself.

Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images.

Some iconic Broadway characters, like "Gypsy's" Rose, have been played by larger actresses. But Tracy Turnblad is not only defined by her size in a way no musical theater protagonist had been before  — she's a hero because of it.

Just as critically, Tracy's weight isn't portrayed as an impediment to getting the guy, who is smitten with her from moment one, or to being treated with love and kindness by those close to her. Her weight is only seen as an obstacle when it comes to being accepted as equal by society at large.

In a way, Tracy's journey to star on "The Corny Collins Show" — small and personal as it may seem — reflects the broader movement toward fat equality that's gained significant steam in recent years, with a new generation of activists speaking up against body-shaming and for greater access to public spaces while encouraging brands to reflect the lives of people of all sizes.

Despite being fictional and belting higher than the Vienna Boys' Choir, Tracy is indisputably a trailblazer for fat girls everywhere.

2. After accepting their Tony Award, "Hairspray" songwriters — and romantic partners — Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman kissed on live television, which was a big deal in 2003.

Photo by Richard Drew/AP.

At a time when not a single U.S. state had legalized same-sex marriage and sodomy laws were still on the books in many states, Shaiman and Wittman accepted their award for Best Original Score openly and defiantly as a couple, stunning many and elating others in the live and television audiences.

"I love this man. We're not allowed to get married in this world," Shaiman said in his speech. "But I'd like to declare, in front of all these people, I love you and I'd like to live with you the rest of my life."

Just a few weeks later, the Supreme Court declared sodomy laws unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas. In an interview with Newsweek following the decision, Shaiman quipped, "We're going to Canada to get married, then Texas for the honeymoon."

3. Harvey Fierstein, who played Edna in the original Broadway production and in 2016's "Hairspray: Live," is a badass fighter for goodness and justice...

Photo Steve Spatafore/Getty Images.

Fierstein doesn't consider himself an activist, but that hasn't stopped him from using his art to advance LGBT rights throughout his long career.

His "Torch Song Trilogy" is widely acclaimed for featuring one of the first three-dimensional gay characters on Broadway, and his follow-up "La Cage aux Folles" is a complex, honest portrayal of a same-sex relationship — which was groundbreaking in 1983, particularly in the thick of the AIDS crisis.

In more recent years, he's been active off the stage, speaking up for marriage equality and against anti-gay hate crimes and Russia's anti-LGBT crackdown.  

4. ...as was Divine, who played Edna in the original John Waters "Hairspray" film.

Photo by Mary Evans/Ronald Grant Archive.

Like Fierstein, the iconic drag performer used his performance as a 1960s suburban housewife to shatter norms around what was acceptable on screen.

His decision to appear in "Hairspray" made him — already a punk and LGBT legend — a mainstream figure and challenged audiences to think differently about their world and who deserved to be included in it.

5. "I Know Where I've Been," one of the show's most powerful and important numbers, was almost cut by producers — but it was saved by the songwriters.

Photo by Colleen Hayes/NBC.

According to songwriters Shaiman and Wittman, some members of the show's initial creative team wanted to cut "I Know Where I've Been," but the pair fought hard to keep it — for an important reason.

As Shaiman explained in an early interview, many on the team initially wanted to nix the song — sung by musician and civil rights activist Motormouth Maybelle — arguing that Tracy should get to perform the show's 11 o'clock number. Shaiman and Wittman insisted, however, that the musical's climactic moment must center on the black characters, whose struggle to integrate local TV is the true heart of the story.

"We weren't going to make this into a minstrel show," Shaiman told New York magazine during an out-of-town tryout. "The cast found something very important about that song."

The song was saved and reliably brought the house down long into the show's run.

6. "Hairspray" features a really sweet interracial teen romance that includes actual hooking up.

Photo via Everett Collection/New Line Cinema.

The chemistry between Seaweed and Penny is undeniable, and like most teens with chemistry, they don't remain chaste for a moment longer than they have to.

In "Without Love," he sneaks into her bedroom, and they — it's implied — get busy. The moment is entirely earned, and, even in an era when the representation of interracial couples on TV is increasing, quietly radical.

7. It's the musical we need right now.

Photo via Everett Collection/New Line Cinema.

Lots of current and former Broadway musicals have messages that resonate in the current moment, from "Avenue Q" (hey, bad stuff is only temporary!) to "Hamilton" (immigrants built America too!) to "Wicked" (fight fascism!) to "Rent" (fight AIDS!). But more than any of them, "Hairspray" shows us the way forward through the darkness.

Tracy wants to build a juster, fairer world, and rather than sit back and hope that the slow, inevitable march of progress eventually hands it to her, she gets up and does something about it. She doesn't go it alone, either; she makes common cause with others who are fighting and builds a coalition.

Progress toward a more equal world is great! But it doesn't just inevitably happen. It gets messy. And people fight back. It's up to its proponents to pull together — across colors, classes, and issues — to keep pushing.

Ultimately, as the song says, you can't stop the beat. But like Tracy Turnblad, you have to start playing your own.

Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

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Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."