This weeks title in the weekly 'The Shows Must Go On' series was the 2016 live production of Hairspray. Originally based on the 1988 movie, the musical premiered on Broadway in 2002 and was adapted into a hit movie five years later. This version was broadcast on NBC four years ago as their annual live musical and boasted an all star cast. But was it any good?
If you have never seen Hairspray, the show is set in the 1960s and follows the story of Tracy Turnblad's dream to dance on The Corny Collins show and the relationships formed from this experience. With her newfound fame, Tracy tries to bring racial integration to the show. What on the surface appears to be a harmless bit of fluff has much deeper and serious issues at the heart of it.
The first thing to talk about is the impressive set. Filmed on a large lot rather than a stage, the sprawling set is used for its full potential as shown immediately with opening number 'Good Morning Baltimore', complete with Tracy dancing from her bedroom down a realistic street, really setting the tone for how larger than life this production aims to be.
This production is big from the beginning and they don't get much better than some of the stars they cast in this show. The legendary Kristin Chenoweth uses every ounce of her talent as Velma Von Tussle - whether she's hitting one of her iconic high notes, using her comedy chops or twirling a baton, Kristin makes sure all eyes are always on her, as they should always be. Dove Cameron plays Velma's daughter Amber and shows why she has branched out from a Disney star into musical theatre with a star turn. Pop superstar Ariana Grande channels Penny Pingleton with such conviction, you'd think it was actually her. Dove and Ariana are actually two of the rumoured choices to lead the forthcoming Wicked movie so a reunion may not be too far off. I hope Dove got some tips from her stage mother Kristin.
The unique and spectacular Harvey Fierstein reprises his Tony award winning role from the original Broadway production as Tracy's mother Edna, while Martin Short plays Edna's devoted husband Wilbur. Edna's personality is as big as her bra size but as she says in 'Welcome to the 60s', she has an introverted side and hasn't left the house in years (Think we can all relate to that at the moment). Thankfully, Fierstein manages to play all sides of her personality perfectly and leaves John Travolta's interpretation in the dust.
The cast even features a blink and you'll miss it cameo from the ladies who played Tracy in the 1988 movie and original Broadway cast, RIcki Lake and Marissa Jaret Winokur, as well as small but memorable supporting roles for Rosie O Donnell, Billy Eichner and Sean Hayes.
Jennifer Hudson has one of the most incredible voices of anyone in the world. Her brilliant casting as Motormouth means one thing - she is about to deliver a spine tingling version of emotional theatre classic 'I Know Where I've Been', and when I say she delivers, boy does she. Bringing new riffs to the song, she channels the emotion and authenticity the song deserves. While the majority of the cast really hold their own, Hudson really steals every scene she's in and deservedly so.
Not every cast member quite lives up to the roles unfortunately. For the lead role of Tracy Turnblad, rather than go with a name or a Broadway star, newcomer Maddie Baillio was chosen. Whether it was nerves, under-rehearsing or simply poor casting, I'm sorry to say she never quite hits the way she should and is by far the weakest cast member in the cast - not what you want from the lead role. She misses several lines from songs throughout the broadcast and makes some unusual choices when delivering some of the iconic dialogue. Obviously this went out as live and as we all know, in live theatre, anything goes. To her credit she gets better as the show goes on, but when compared to Nikki Blonsky who played Tracy in the 2007 movie, she really can't compete.
Hairspray is full of classic songs, harking back to music from the 60s but keeping it firmly in musical theatre territory. You'll be hard pushed to find a more joyous finale to any show than 'You Can't Stop The Beat'. If you are not out of your seat dancing to that, you may be clinically dead.
The 2007 movie took artistic licence with some changes it made from the musical. While the movie in itself is still fantastic, it pales in comparison to the stage show because of these changes. Nobody needs to see Velma's unnecessary attempt to break up the Turnblads marriage, and thankfully that is nowhere to be seen in this version. Sadly one of the highlights from the musical, 'The Big Dollhouse', is as absent in this version as it is in the movie, though thankfully 'Mama, I'm A Big Girl Now' is restored to its glory in this version.
As mentioned before, while this is a fun show, it talks about serious issues such as race relations. Events from the past week have shown that this issue is still ever present in society which makes the timing of this broadcast ever more poignant. Jennifer Hudson and Ariana Grande sum up the situation perfectly in the encore, "we've come so far but we've got so far to go".
Overall, this is a stunning production of a musical that has become one of my favourites over the years. Rectifying some of the missteps the 2007 movie made, this version really holds up to the stage show and recreates the magic of seeing it live in the theatre. With great sets and a stunning cast (only let down by one weak link) this is one of the better live broadcasts made in America in recent years, and makes me even more excited about seeing the forthcoming West end revival when theatres reopen.
Hairspray is available at youtube.com/theshowsmustgoon until 7pm on Sunday 31st May. Direct link below. Next weeks show will be announced on Monday.