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Harvey Fierstein: Why Hairspray's Equality Message Has New Relevance After 'Wake Up Call' Election

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Brian Bowen Smith/NBC

Although he didn’t change Hairspray Live!‘s script to keep up with today’s politics, Harvey Fierstein believes that the show’s message of civil rights and equality has renewed relevance after the recent election.

Hairspray takes place in 1962 and I have to always be true to that, and you want to be true to that,” Fierstein said of Hairspray Live!, which is based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical and follows the story of Tracy Turnblad (Maddie Baillio), whose dream to dance on The Corny Collins Show revolutionizes TV and changes her life.

Continued Fierstein: “And it just happens that we got a wake up call that we weren’t quite as evolved as we thought we were. We weren’t quite as forward. We haven’t made the progress we thought, so it’s kind of wonderful to take a look back and we’re not looking that far back. We’re looking 50 years back, and saying this is where we were.”

Fierstein, who is writing Hairspray Live! and also reprising his Tony-winning performance as Edna Turnblad, questions if we really want to go back in history.

“Do we really want to go back to a time when the black kids and the white kids had a rope down the middle of the gymnasium and they weren’t allowed to touch?” asked Fierstein during Entertainment Weekly‘s SiriusXM Town Hall on Nov. 21. “Do we want to go back to where we never spoke to each other? Do we want to go back to them and us? Or do we want an America where we’re all together?”

“That’s our choice,” says Fierstein, who acknowledges that it’s “a good thing to show” people Hairspray and to “look at that choice again.”

“I think it’s just wonderful that we’re doing Hairspray right now. We’re not lecturing anybody,” said Fierstein, who was joined by Baillio, Jennifer Hudson (Motormouth Maybelle), Martin Short (Wilbur Turnblad), Derek Hough (Corny Collins), Ephraim Sykes (Seaweed Stubbs), Garrett Clayton (Link Larkin), Dove Cameron (Amber von Tussle) and producer Neil Meron.

Hairspray is gentle and beautiful and this beautiful statement that this young girl’s want to be with her friends, changes the world,” he adds. “It’s good to say this is where we were, and this is where we’ve been, and this is where we can go.”

Hairspray Live! airs Dec. 7  at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.