In 1988, filmmaker John Waters introduced audiences to a new film and a new heroine. Hairspray is the story of far from modelesque 1960’s teenager Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake) whose dream is to dance on the local teenage dance show. What starts out as one girl’s innocuous dream represents a larger goal of diversity, respect for others who are different and self-love.
From there, the movie became a hit Broadway musical with Marissa Jaret Winokur, and a movie musical starring Nikky Blonsky. Last night, Hairspray evolved again to become Hairspray Live on NBC. Stepping into Tracy’s buffont hair was newcomer Maddie Baillio.
I have mixed feelings on this production. What keeps this piece relevant and will continue to keep this piece relevant are the issues that lie just below the surface of the narrative. The problem was that it felt like a high production or a community theater production with a much larger budget and a cast of actors that many of us know and love. While the casting was perfect, especially with Harvey Fierstein once again stepping into the shoes of Edna Turnblad after doing it on Broadway, something was just off for me. There was something missing that I get from live theater that I did not get from this production.
Do I recommend it? Maybe.
The story of the underdog can be appealing to audiences. Those of us who feel downtrodden, ignored and used will often turn to fictional characters for support and inspiration.
In 1988, filmmaker John Waters introduced audiences to 1960’s teenager Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray. Tracy is a pleasantly plump young lady whose sole wish is to dance in the local teenage dance show. In her drive to become a regular on show, Tracy not only changes the look of the dancers, but the color of the dancers. Subversive, campy, but with a strong message of diversity, inclusion and respect for all, this film spoke to audiences. In 2002, Hairspray hit the Broadway stage and became a mainstay in New York until it closed in 2009.
In 2007, a film musical, based on off the Broadway show hit theaters. Let’s just say that it was mostly flash and pop and lost the message of the original film.
In just under two weeks, NBC will be airing Hairspray Live.
We will know soon enough how it holds up to its predecessors. The thing that strikes me is that it still feels very timely, nearly 30 years later. We are still a nation and a culture who judges women based on their looks and discriminates based on color. Hairspray is a reminder that change is possible, if we are bold enough to step up and speak out for what is right.
Hairspray Live will be airing on Dec 7, 2016 on NBC at 8/7c.