I love musicals. I know they are cheesy and the idea that people randomly bust out into song and dance can rub people the wrong way, but there is something wonderfully whimsical about them. While there are a few bummer productions out there, most musicals are about the triumph hope and love in the face of all that is wrong in the world.
Continuing with their yearly holiday tradition, NBC’s Hairspray Live! brought us joy and optimism with the musical about inclusion in a time of segregation and a young girl with a dream up against those who hate her because she doesn’t look like what society says is supposed to be beautiful.
Last night’s three hour telecast of the loved musical had so many highs (Jennifer Hudson, Derek Hough) and a few lows (who in the hell is working lighting and sound?), but that is the fun of live television!
Taking cues from Grease: Live!
Way back in January, Fox decided to throw their hat in the live musical game and out did NBC at their own bit. The production had a live audience, multiple sets (which were both outdoor and indoor), and some seriously great cameos. It is pretty obvious the executive producers for NBC’s previous musical outings, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, were paying close attention to the fan reactions. They expanded their production from the traditional Broadway method of stage and backdrops, to a studio backlot complete with multiple sets. Also, a live audience with a Glee vet, Darren Criss, to serve as head fanboy going into commercial breaks. Zadan and Meron also hired Grease: Live! co-director, Alex Rudzinski, to help Kenny Leon, who directed The Wiz Live! last year.
Seriously who is working lighting and sound?
NBC really must have wanted us to know this was a live production because the opening number, “Good Morning, Baltimore” (and our introduction to the newly discovered Maddie Baillo) was full of microphone glitches, cameras not in place, and bad lighting. Same thing happened with “Momma, I’m a Big Girl Now” and poor Baillio was left in the dark more than once. Also, was anyone else bothered by the outdoor set for the first number? It looked as if Tracy Turnblad was going to night school.
Seriously, is there anything Derek Hough can’t do? The Dancing with the Stars vet really got to show off his dancing and singing abilities (smart of the production to have Hough sing “Ladies Choice” and give him a nice long dancing break). I loved James Marsden as Corny Collins more, but Hough gave him a run of his money with some great pantomime while holding Tracy Turnblad back during “It Take Two.”
Also, Introducing Dove Cameron
I don’t watch the Disney channel, so this talented young woman was completely under my radar. As the snotty and spoiled Amber Von Tussle, Cameron really showed off some range going from snarky, mean girl to vulnerable, rejected girlfriend easily. She was a perfect Kristen Chenoweth miniature with the vocals to match.
Taking Away a Bow
Right before her well-deserved bow, the cameras cut away from Chenoweth making me wonder who in the hell do I have to smack upside their heads for such an egregious error!
A (Not Quite) Grande Performance
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Ariana Grande. I know the pop star got her start as an actress on a Disney show and I’ve seen her kill it on live performances more than once, but having to act, sing, dance, and be a comedic relief is a lot to ask. She did a fairly adequate job. Her chemistry with Ephraim Sykes’s Seaweed Stubbs was not quite there and the two of them dancing together was a bit clumsy. But if you don’t want to think about it too hard, you can just interpret it as Penny Pingleton being an awkward teenager in the face of her first love.
Did anyone doubt Jennifer Hudson wasn’t going to steal the show as Motormouth Maybelle? Shahadi Wright Joseph really killed it as Little Inez in her solo during “Run and Tell That!” More of her please.
I see what you did there
I hate commercials as much as the next person, but the Corny Collins live spot for Oreo and the fake Toyota commercial were pretty clever marketing.
Cameos and Easter Eggs
Blink and you missed the original Tracy Turnblad, Ricky Lake, and the first stage Tracy, Marissa Jaret Winokur, during “Welcome to the 60’s” as two women who work at Mr. Pinky’s Hefty Hideaway. The producers hyped the hell out of the two women having a part in the broadcast and I feel like I was cheated out of a passing of the torch.
Divine Pet Foods was a bit of a naughty little nod to the original Edna Turnblad. Drag Queen star, Divine, rose to fame (and infamy) with a movie called Pink Flamingos (directed by John Waters who also directed the original Hairspray movie) where her character ate dog feces.
Billy Echner as the TV newscaster and announcer for the Corny Collins Show was a nice touch, but was there no way to try and work his trademark snarkiness into the show a little bit?
You Really Can’t Stop the Beat
I always forget how long the giant final number, “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” goes on and on and on. It might still be going.
Next year we will be treated to Bye, Bye Birdie Live! starring Jennifer Lopez and I’ll have my popcorn and Twitter ready! Until then, will any of the other networks set in and try to top NBC?
What did you think of Hairspray Live!? Did you enjoy the bigger and better production? Was the running time a little too long? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.