Dec 23, 2016

[TV] Hairspray Live!

Admittedly I haven't been paying that much attention to NBC's various "Live" stage musical productions in recent years due to mixed reviews and an odd selection of productions. Some shows that I actually would have wanted to have seen totally slipped past my radar for one reason or another.

I had almost missed out on Hairspray Live! were it not for the social media storm it created during its live broadcast and the subsequent decision to upload the entire show to YouTube. And so one night we ended up watching it while waiting for players to come over for late night board games despite the increasingly terrible holiday traffic.

And while the result was not quite as terrible as feared, it definitely wasn't as polished as a stage production. And that's really more to do with the challenges of live television, which go beyond managing a single stage for a set period of time.

Synopsis: Hairspray Live! is an NBC television special adaptation of the 2002 Broadway musical Hairspray. The TV production was directed by Kenny Leon and Alex Rudzinski.

I'm not sure if we need an actual summary of the musical since one can refer somewhat to the 2007 movie or the story of the original play. It's still the same story of young Tracy Turnblad (Maddie Baillio) wanting to be on the Corny Collins Show (Derek Hough) and turns into a larger statement about the lack of racial integration in 1960's Baltimore.

The story is closer to the Broadway production instead of the 2007 movie and was broadcast as a live production.

What I Liked: I think the best part of all this apart from Kristen Chenoweth as Velma Von Tussle (gotta love the Cheno!) were the cameos and other casting choices. Figuring out a way to get a scene featuring three different actresses who have portrayed Tracy, namely Ricki Lake from the original non-musical movie and Marissa Jaret Winokur from the original Broadway production made for a lot of fun. And getting Harvey Fierstein to reprise his Broadway role of Edna Turnblad (for which he won a Tony Award) was also quite a gem. In that sense, really good job.

And the show was super ambitious given the size of its set that included scenes on the NBC backlot or something since the camera crew had to do a LOT of running around to keep up with the cast as they made their way through their scenes. 

And Ariana Grande was clearly having fun as Penny plus we also had a super fabulous Jennifer Hudson as Motormouth Maybelle.

What Could Have Been Better: The show's biggest issues had to do with the lighting, which were maybe great for a particular camera angle per scene. But as this was a live production with multiple cameras going left and right, a lot of times you'd have featured characters cast in shadow for one moment but back in better lighting once they switch to another camera.

There were some casting misses here and there like how flat Martin Short felt as Wilbur Turnblad and  didn't quite get why they needed to get Rosie O'Donnell as the Health Ed teacher. 

TL;DR: Hairspray Live! is still a pretty fun production but it doesn't fully sell me on the viability of these live stage musical shows. They're fun in concept and can have some interesting moments but in the long run the show starts becoming unintentionally comedic.


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