7 December 2016 | atlasmb
Hairspray Live! and Long!
NBC has produced some good live musicals and "Hairspray Live!" shows that they have learned from their past productions. Endless hours of work are evident.
The logistics alone are mind boggling with a cast of this size and so many scenes. A flotilla of cameras (they say they used 58) captures the action from so many angles.
Because of so many common plot elements, the show welcomes comparisons with "Grease". The TV dance show. The teenage leads. The gym dance. But I found myself enjoying this show and wondering at its quality. I would have sworn Maddie Baillio's (Tracy Turnblad) voice was prerecorded, it sounded so clear. I thought the show deserved an Emmy for sound.
But as it progressed, I noticed technical errors. And eventually, it drew on too long. I realize it is difficult to cut scenes or musical numbers that are worthy of being seen/heard, but the show would improve by losing at least a half hour. The plot began to slow and to wander. And it became too preachy.
Otherwise, the show is quite good. Dove Cameron (Amber) has a great voice. Ariana Grande (Penny) appears to have fun throughout. Kristen Chenoweth (Velma) is her usual, dynamic self. Harvey Fierstein is, of course, iconic in his portrayal of Edna. Derek Hough, who has plenty of live experience, is solid as Corny--a role that holds some scenes together. Maddie Baillio, in her first credited professional role, may not have the magnetism of some others who have played the central role, but her energy does not lag despite the demanding role (and its dancing) and her voice seems to gain strength as the show progresses. Martin Short is terrific as Edna's husband, Wilbur. And Jennifer Hudson sings the heck out of her songs. The other cast members are, likewise, strong in their performances.
The set(s) also deserves mentioning. It is versatile and it captures the feeling of 1960s Baltimore.
Early on, I thought the show is very rewatchable, but its final length dampened my enthusiasm for re-viewing.
Addendum 12/8/16: Testing my theory, I rewatched the show, though I did fast forward through a section--something I would only do after watching the entire show.
I enjoyed it again. The First 1:35 is electric. Though I would miss the performances that would be removed, if they cut from that point (in Motormouth Records right after Inez says, "We'll set off sparks like Rosa Parks!") straight to the Corny Collins Show at 2:29, it would be a tighter production. Of course, they would have to shore up a few plot points.
The entire cast is magnificent. Some other special mentions: Shahadi Wright as Little Inez. Garrett Clayton as Link. Ephraim Sykes as Seaweed.
I grievously forgot to mention the Corny Collins Dancers. Tremendous!
Lastly, I want to mention the brief scene that takes place in the alley just before they are at Motormouth Records. Although the music anachronistically invokes Isaac Hayes' "Theme From Shaft" (1971), it provides the flavor and feeling of an era for a solid dance number.