Hairspray Live. Where to start? This may have been NBC’s best live show yet, but that isn’t saying very much. Taking a hint from Fox’s Grease, they transitioned this live production into a multi-set, live audience production. While I very much enjoyed this production there were some obvious setbacks.
The first thing that has to be noted is the cultural relevance. If there was ever a time that Hairspray needed to be done it was now. The positive messages about peaceful protesting in the face of hatred, bullying and racism, are exactly what we need. Art mimics life and that is exactly what happened tonight. Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been” was incredibly powerful and moving.
With that said there were some technical parts of the show that were not as well done. Starting with lighting, my first issue with this production was that they were filming “Good Morning Baltimore” outside at nighttime. It was dark and clearly not morning. In the case of lighting, they definitely needed more. There were also late light cues and a general lack of stage lighting. It seemed like most of the lighting was just fluorescents which isn’t far off from some of the lighting from when the network did Peter Pan.
Then there was the camera cuts. Live theater is about seeing everything on stage at once and even Grease Live who used a similar platform, had wide shots to showcase the choreography. This show was about dancing and they cut to a different frame every fifteen seconds during dance numbers.
Another issue was the energy level of the ensemble. At the start of the show, there seemed to be something missing from the group numbers. As the night went on, the energy seemed to build but it was definitely worrisome at the start.
The main cast was the bomb dot com. The newcomer, Maddie Baillio in the role of Tracy, was perfect. She was definitely nervous in the beginning and had a few slip-ups but she shook it off quickly and took control. It should be mentioned that the occasional Hairspray critic likes to say that they find the typical Tracy has a voice of the shrill variety but Baillio had a very nice tone and quality to her voice while staying in character.
Ephraim Sykes was great! He was so full of energy and incredible talent. Seaweed is always a favorite and it’s nice to see such a loved character performed so well.
Dove Cameron is the perfect Amber. She may be a sweetheart in real life but she’s really great at playing the mean girl. She sounded incredible and she worked the attitude.
Ariana Grande (Penny) definitely needs to be talked about. She sounded great, as was expected and the acting was there but was anyone else hoping to hear a little of the Charlotte (13 The Musical) Ariana instead of the “Dangerous Woman” Ariana? All I can say is she had an interesting pronunciation of “sound” and round” in “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” but it didn’t take away from the rest of her performance.
Garrett Clayton is an original masterpiece and should be protected. With those dimples, that smile, and that voice, he was born to play Link. He’s another who was falling a little short at the energy side at the start of the show but by “It Takes Two,” he had the audience in full swoon. He also provided a very adorable instagram moment with Marissa Jaret Winokur and surprise commenter Matthew Morrison who originated Tracy and Link.
Derek Hough was a decent Corny Collins. While it seemed like he had trouble holding out some notes, he held his own and worked the dance floor.
Honorable mentions go out to Jennifer Hudson (Motormouth Maybelle), Harvey Fierstein (Edna Turnblad), Martin Short (Wilbur Turnblad) and Kristen Chenoweth (Velma Von Tussle) who, as expected, were phenomenal. Also to Shahadi Wright Joseph (Inez) who really made a mark with the small role she had.
I want to briefly mention the costumes, sets and choreography because they were good but I think little needs to be said because they were so close to the original. It was a very nice tribute. The one costume which was a little iffy was Jennifer Hudson’s in “You Can’t Stop the Beat” because it was a little too early in the 60’s for that outfit but it was understandable for the quick change she had.
All in all, Hairspray Live was enjoyable. Was it the best production of Hairspray? Not at all but it was not bad. I thought the end was done extremely well but at the start I was feeling very whelmed with it all. I’d say if you’re stressed with work, finals or anything else, you should take some time to enjoy this.
Weigh in with your own Hairspray thoughts below!