It’s December which can only mean one thing, no not that Christmas is less than a month away, it’s time for NBC’s annual live musical
disaster extravaganza. This year NBC decided to take on a more recent stage production, 2002’s Hairspray.
Now I have a special place in my heart for Hairspray. I’ve been a fan of the story since I saw the original 1988 John Waters film, it was one of those films that defined the term “cult classic”. When the musical hit Broadway I saw it on stage around a total of 10 times before it closed and when the 2007 hit came out I was the crazy person who saw it multiple times in theater. So NBC, I will have my judgy eyes on you during your Hairspray Live special.
Let’s start with what I liked. In terms of casting bringing back Harvey Fierstein to play ‘Edna Turnblad’ was genius, I mean he did win the Tony Award for the role. Using the talents of Kristin Chenoweth as ‘Velma Von Tussle’ and Jennifer Hudson as ‘Motormouth Maybelle’, also brilliant. The casting of Tracy went to newcomer Maddie Baillio and she did a good job for being her first time, as was the casting of Dove Cameron and Derek Hough.
I also thought it was smart of NBC to take a page out of FOX’s book and use a whole backlot and soundstage in L.A. instead of just using a random soundstage out in Long Island like they have in the past. The way FOX did Grease Live really opened the door for what is possible for these live productions.
The cameos of Ricki Lake (OG 1988 Tracy) and Marissa Jaret Winokur (OG Broadway Tracy) were great touches. If you missed them, they appeared as some of Mr. Pinky’s girls turning the song “Welcome to the 60’s”, they were the two dancers in brunette wigs.
Now for what wasn’t I loving. Let’s start with the mixing of the Broadway and movie musical track list. The 2007 movie musical cut a few of the Broadway tracks in favor of original songs. The song “Ladies Choice” was written for one Zac Efron for the film and it was put in Hairspray Live in favor of “The Madison”. The opening of Act II should have started with “The Big Dollhouse”, however that song was cut and instead Act II kicked off with “(You’re) Timeless to Me”. I will say that I did love how they put the song “Mama I’m a Big Girl Now” back in the production.
Then there is the issue with the supporting cast. Yes, I’m sure I will get crap for this, but I wasn’t in love with Ariana Grande as ‘Penny’, her acting was fine but her voice just was too breathy. Then there is the dude playing Link Larkin. He was wooden and looked like he was reading right off the cue cards, plus I agree with my friend Elizabeth Holmes in that they made him a little too pretty, I mean he was beat to the beauty gods.
Final Thoughts: Overall NBC’s Hairspray Live was a sold B-. Sure it had it’s issues but overall it was a solid performance. It was 100x better than 2014’s Peter Pan Live and 2013’s Sound of Music Live, however it will be tough for NBC to top last years The Wiz Live.
Did you watch Hairspray Live? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!