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Addison Garner Knows “Hairspray’s” Velma Von Tussle is a Complex Character

Five years and counting. That’s how long Addison Garner has been portraying Velma Von Tussle, the snobbish, racist antagonist in the Tony award-winning musical Hairspray, playing Altria Theater January 24 through 29.

In those past five years, Garner has had the time to explore Velma’s character and motivation.

“I used to play her like a caricature, but now I keep her grounded and very real,” says Garner who first played Velma on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas in 2018. “She is a real mom. I try to bring truth to the made-up character.”

Addison Garner is Velma Von Tussle in “Hairspray,” showing at Altria Theater January 24 through 29. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.

Garner describes Velma as the mean woman in yellow. “We can all relate to her,” she says. “She doesn’t like change, and that’s not something [anyone] adapts to easily. What I love about her is she is always true to herself, trying to do the best she can. She’s trying to raise her daughter the way she was raised.”

Set in 1962 in Baltimore, Hairspray tells the story of teen Tracy Turnblad and her dream to dance on The Corny Collins Show. When she realizes her dream and becomes well known, she finds strength in helping campaign to integrate the show and get justice for her Black friends.

Velma is the producer of The Corny Collins Show and a helicopter mom who wants her daughter to have the fame she never had.

“She wants to be large and in charge,” Garner says. “She sees Tracy as a threat to her. It’s the story of the underdog – and the underdog coming out on top.”

The story resonated twenty-one years ago when it was first produced and is still clicking with audiences today.

“It’s been really cool to do it twenty-one years later, especially when these are issues that are still relevant. Whether it’s physical appearance or racial tension, you can find someone on stage you can relate to,” Garner says.

It’s easy to cast Velma off as a terrible person, Garner adds. “But when you get down to her nitty gritty, it was the way she was raised. She knows other people are talented, but she doesn’t want anyone to upstage her daughter. It’s all a threat to her. There are a lot of layers to her, just like in real life.”

Born and raised in Alabama, Garner is a Southern girl through and through. Musical theater is in her blood, she says.

“I came out of the womb singing. I started dance at the age of three and have been taking it all my life,” she says.

She got bitten by the stage bug in fifth grade when she appeared in a community theater production of Annie. “I’ve been doing this ever since,” she says.

She found out she landed the role of Velma on the national tour of Hairspray while she was on vacation with her family.

“I remember sitting on the beach in Alabama. That is when I got the call. I got to experience that with my entire family. That was a cool experience,” she says.

When theater work shut down during the pandemic, she moved back to her parent’s house in Alabama and started her own charcuterie and cookie business called Little Happies. She also started a voice studio.

“I would teach in the afternoon and make cookies at night,” she says, noting that now she’s back on the road, she is still able to teach through Zoom, but making cookies is a much more difficult task, something she can’t do on the road.

But the opportunity to be in Hairspray has made her life sweeter. It’s been a genuine learning experience for her.

One of the main things she has learned, she says, is that life “is all about how you treat people.”

Hairspray plays Tuesday, January 24 through Sunday, January 29, at Altria Theater. For showtimes and tickets, go here.


[Feature photo: Addison Garner as Velma Von Tussle in Hairspray. Photo Jeremy Daniel.]

An award-winning writer based in Richmond, Joan Tupponce is a parent, grandparent, and self-admitted Disney freak. She writes about anything and everything and enjoys meeting inspiring people and telling their stories. Joan’s work has appeared in RFM since the magazine’s first issue in October 2009. Look for original and exclusive online articles about Richmond-area people, places, and ideas at Just Joan: RVA Storyteller.

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