Marissa Jaret Winokur Biography


Born February 2, 1973, in New York, NY; daughter of Michael (an architect) and Maxine (a teacher) Winokur. Education: Studied at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

Addresses: Agent —Acme Talent & Literary Agency, 6310 San Vincent Blvd., #520, Los Angeles, CA 90048.


Actress on stage, including: Grease, touring company, 1994, New York production, 1995-98; Hairspray, New York, NY, 2002. Film appearances include: Never Been Kissed, 1999; American Beauty, 1999; Scary Movie, 2000; Sleep Easy, Hutch Rimes, 2000; On Edge, 2001; Now You Know, 2002. Television appearances include: The Steve Harvey Show, 1998; Malibu, CA, 1998; Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show, 1999; Felicity, 1999; Dharma & Greg, 1999, 2000; Get Real, 2000; Chicken Soup for the Soul, 2000; Moesha, 2000; Curb Your Enthusiasm, 2000; Just Shoot Me!, 2000; Nikki, 2001; The Ellen Show, 2001; Boston Public, 2001; Beautiful Girl (movie; also producer), 2003.

Awards: Best actress in a musical, Antoinette Perry (Tony) Awards, American Theater Wing, for Hairspray, 2003; Theatre World award for best Broadway debut newcomer, for Hairspray, 2003.


Marissa Jaret Winokur triumphed on Broadway in 2002 as the star of the new musical version of Hairspray. Winokur had been one of the first to

Marissa Jaret Winokur
audition for the role of zaftig but spirited teenager Tracy Turnblad in the stage version of the cult-classic 1988 movie, and spent two years preparing for it with voice and dance lessons. On opening night, she said in a People interview with Samantha Miller, "it literally took all of my energy not to burst out crying. It was the day I'd been waiting for my entire life."

Winokur had already spent much of her life dreaming of just such a Broadway debut. Born in 1973, she was the last of four children in her family, and grew up in Bedford Village, a suburb of New York City. She was enchanted by the first show she ever saw, a dinner theater production of Meet Me in St. Louis, which came at the impressionable age of eight. As she told Miller in People, "I retained the entire show. We had a porch in the backyard and I would dance around singing to the trees."

The love of theater ran deep in Winokur's family: her paternal grandfather had been a well-known Broadway accountant, while her father, an architect, would occasionally let her leave school for the day to catch a Broadway matinee in the city with him; sometimes they even stayed around and found tickets for an evening show. Once, while on a legitimate school field trip from Fox Lane High School to see Gregory Hines in Sophisticated Ladies, Winokur was late getting back to the bus after waiting at the stage door to meet Hines, and earned some time in detention for it.

Winokur always planned on a career in show business, though she lacked the requisite leggy-dancer physique for a musical-theater star. Plump for much of her life, she was never daunted by the extra pounds, and had been a cheerleader and captain of her soccer team in high school. After graduating from Fox Lane, she spent two years at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, which she has hinted in one interview was a disappointing experience, and eventually landed in the touring company of Grease in 1994. A year later, she was given the role of Jan in the Broadway production, and held it until the show closed in 1998.

Winokur had become good friends with Lucy Lawless, one of a long line of Grease stage veterans, and went to Los Angeles, California, for the Xena, Warrior Princess 's wedding. She decided to stay for a time and audition for a few film roles, and was quickly cast in a small part in the 1999 Drew Barrymore movie Never Been Kissed. She also played Kevin Spacey's fast-food co-worker in the Oscar-winning American Beauty that same year, delivering the memorable "You are so busted" line to Annette Bening's character at the drive-through window. She also played the girl who gets stuck in a dog door in Scary Movie.

Winokur also did some television episodes of The Steve Harvey Show, Felicity, Dharma & Greg, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Broadway still beckoned, however, and when she learned that there was going to be a stage version of the John Waters film Hairspray, she was one of the first to audition for the role that had catapulted another heavy-set actress, Ricki Lake, to stardom back in 1988. "They kept trying to get me to go away," she told Back Stage West 's Les Spindle about that first audition, "but I wouldn't . Everyone in the country who weighed more than 100 pounds was coming to audition. I was cast in the workshops, which I did for 2 1/2 years, and finally they let me keep the role."

Hairspray 's plot revolves around teenage Tracy and her determination to appear on a local Top-40 dance show in early 1960s Baltimore. When she auditions for a spot, the other kids tease her, but she wins it anyway, and winds up helping usher the local show into the civil-rights era. Both the film and stage version featured massive hairdos, and one of Waters's trademark gender-bending twists: Tracy's mother is played by a man in drag. Winokur trained heavily for the part, which required singing, dancing, and being onstage in nearly every scene: she took voice lessons, worked with a choreographer, and built up her stamina by running on a treadmill while singing. She wowed audiences at Hairspray 's brief trial run in Seattle, Washington, and did the same when it opened in August of 2002 at Broadway's Neil Simon Theater after record-setting advance ticket sales.

Critical plaudits for Broadway's newest star were enthusiastic. "Plucky, adorable, and warmer than an August day in New York, she takes the part played in the movie by Ricki Lake and makes her utterly winning," declared Newsweek reviewer Marc Peyser, while the New York Times theater critic, Ben Brantley, commended both Broadway veteran Harvey Fierstein as Edna, Tracy's mother, and Winokur, the newcomer. "Her Tracy is less visibly assured, more wistful than Ricki Lake's was in the film version, and this gives the audience a firmer grasp of empathy," wrote Brantley. "Although she sounds more like Brenda Lee than she does the frog-voiced Mr. Fierstein, Tracy is unmistakably her mother's daughter. That's a compliment."

Hairspray went on to win eight Antoinette Perry Awards, also known as "Tonys," for the 2002-2003 Broadway season. At the ceremony in June of 2003, it won for best musical, and Winokur nabbed the Tony for best actress in a musical. Later in 2003, she appeared in a made-for-television movie, Beautiful Girl, about an overweight young woman determined to win a beauty pageant's first prize. She has said that she has consciously tried to avoid being typecast because of her size. "I don't take jobs that are about the poor, pathetic fat girl," she told New York Times journalist Robin Pogrebin. "I think that's really important. Fortunately my agent agrees with me."



Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television, vol. 30, Gale Group, 2000.


American Theatre, July-August 2003, pp. 11-12.

Back Stage West, July 22, 2004, p. 10.

Daily Variety, August 21, 2003, p. 1.

Dance, December 2003, p. S20.

Entertainment Weekly, August 23, 2002, p. 134.

Newsweek, August 26, 2002, p. 52.

New York Daily News, August 14, 2002.

New York Times, August 16, 2002; August 21, 2002, p. E1.

People, September 9, 2002, p. 75.

Time, August 26, 2002, p. 63.

—Carol Brennan

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