Movie Name: Hairspray Live!
Studio: Storyline Entertainment
Release Date(s): December 8, 2016
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Tracy Turnblad (Maddie Baillio) has dreamed of nothing but dancing on TV. When a spot opens on The Corny Collins Show, Tracy sees her chance to grab the role despite the objects of her mother (Edna Turnblad). Despite her size, Tracy’s personality wins the day and Tracy finds herself as the hottest thing in Baltimore! Winning the eyes of the show’s heartthrob Link Larkin (Garrett Clayton) and animosity of Velma Von Tussle (Kristin Chenoweth) and her daughter Amber (Dove Cameron), Tracy is about to change TV…by integrating the show whether Baltimore is ready or not!
Directed by Kenny Leon and Alex Rudzinski, Hairspray Live! premiered on NBC on December 7, 2016. The show follows The Wiz Live! in 2015, and adapts the 2002 musical Hairspray which was based on the 1988 John Waters movie (and the musical was also adapted in 2007).
Hairspray was a kind of fun movie. It was goofy and lighthearted like many of John Waters movies. It was also the most accessible of his films and the most logical of his movies to be turned into a musical. Hairspray Live! tries to keep up the light hearted approach to a serious message, but unfortunately falls to the TV broadcast.
The basic story of Hairspray Live! is a nice positive message, but like many of these live musicals, it is drawn out far too long. With commercials and all the behind the scenes moments (plus a studio audience and remotes from around the United States), the show just seems to take a nice story and makes it go on and on and on. The message is positive and timely, but it is watered down by the length of the production.
With the extremely positive reviews and innovative nature of Fox’s Grease: Live!, NBC was up against the ropes in terms of this musical. Grease Live! was the perfect combination of a popular musical, a good set-up, and a cast that could act, sing, and dance. Here, the production tries to incorporate more of an audience feel, but Hairspray just isn’t Grease…it doesn’t have as wide of base of popularity nor does it have as memorable of songs. The show does have a marked production improvement over the earlier NBC musicals, but it still doesn’t have the spark of the Fox production.
The cast is the show’s saving grace. Like the Grease production, the show got actors that could do music and were performers. The Wiz Live! showed this initial improvement and it continues here. Maddie Baillio is good as the bubbly Tracy (and it was great seeing cameos by the stage Tracy Marissa Jaret Winokur and the original Tracy Ricki Lake). Stage star Harvey Fierstein reprises his role as Edna Turnblad and Martin Short is a good fit as Tracy’s father. Stage master Kristin Chenoweth is a good bad guy and Dove Cameron plays the obnoxious daughter obnoxiously. Jennifer Hudson steps up as Motormouth Maybelle with a great solo song. Ariana Grande plays the oppressed Penny with the always enjoyable SCTV’s Andrea Martin as her mother. Sean Hayes, Rosie O’Donnell, Billy Eichner, and Paul Vogt also take small roles in the production.
Hairspray Live! is better than most of NBC’s other live productions, but it also feels like it is grasping at straws to make it bigger and better. With the type of musicals that are good for live adaptations (both in spirit and fun), the TV stations are starting to run slim. The non-live remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Fox didn’t live up to the hype, and Hairspray couldn’t possibly live up the anticipation that NBC set-up. It tried, and it didn’t fail…but it also didn’t soar. Hairspray Live! is going to be followed by Bye, Bye Birdie Live! in 2017.