Fans were positively apoplectic last night when the much anticipated December musical extravaganza Hairspray Live! aired on NBC. The fourth installation of NBC’s pre-holiday season live-musical event brought back the 1988 John Waters classic film, to the pleasure of musical theater fans. The story is based in Baltimore, 1962, and follows the rise to fame of Tracy Turnblad, a “pleasantly plump” teen whose greatest dream is to dance on the popular (and real-life) Buddy Deane Show. When she wins a spot on the show, she becomes an overnight celebrity but is forced to confront the show’s racist segregation.
As reported in the Atlantic, Waters’ film was true to the actual story of the Buddy Deane Show. While the show was on the air in Baltimore, black teens were not permitted to appear together with white contestants. Rather, just like in Hairspray, one day each month was dedicated to “Black Monday” which permitted African-American contestants to take the stage. When the show aired an unscheduled integrated broadcast in 1964, the network received numerous threats. Rather than fight, the station WJZ-TV pulled the show off the air and the concept for Waters’ exuberant show-stopper Hairspray was born.
The original Broadway version of Hairspray opened in 2002 and won numerous Tony awards in 2003, including for Best Musical. It ran over 2,500 performances before closing in 2009. Hairspray also ran a London cast which was equally well-received across the pond, winning numerous awards.
Hairspray was remade into a second blockbuster movie in 2007 starring Nikki Blonsky as Tracy, and it was almost inevitable that critics would compare Hairspray Live! newcomer Maddie Baillio in the same role. Hollywood Reporter was not floored by Baillio’s performance,
“Maddie Baillio was rarely more than adequate in the role.”
“She got off to an unfortunate start with the opener, ‘Good Morning, Baltimore,’ her vocals drowned in a muddy sound mix, and her physical presence cramped by chaotic street scene staging. She did her best to manufacture the required perkiness, but the confidence was missing.”
While Baillio received less-than-stellar reviews, NBC’s Hairspray Live! headline stars Jennifer Hudson and Ariana Grande stole the show. Jennifer Hudson played Motormouth Maybelle, a role that was played by Queen Latifah in the 2007 film. Her gospel-inspired song “I know Where I’ve Been” brought fans to tears and to Twitter where they raved about Hudson’s vocal performance.
As reported by People, the most epic performance of the night was the finale delivered by Jennifer Hudson and Ariana Grande. During the final curtain call, the show’s cast took their bows as Hudson and Grande showcased their mind-blowing vocal talents with the song “Come So Far.” Ariana Grande spoke to E! News about the emotional number, “The message in the song is exactly what we need right now, because the hook says, ‘We’ve come so far, but we’ve got so far to go,’ which is exactly where we’re at right now. It’s exactly why we’re supposed to be doing this show right now, cosmically.”
“The world needs to hear it in a fun musical way, it’s a message that we need to get out there.”
Crowd favorite “Can’t Stop the Beat” also received approval from viewers and critics alike. During the performance of the final number, cast members filled the studio with actual hairspray which they sprayed from aerosol cans. Other members of the star-studded cast apart from Hudson and Grande included Kristin Chenoweth, Martin Short, and Rosie O’Donnell. Although “audio glitches, clunky camera moves, and unforgivable lighting” were noticeable throughout the Hairspray Live! production, as reported by Hollywood Reporter, Jennifer Hudson and Ariana Grande’s performance made up for any shortcomings and left NBC viewers tapping their toes.
[Featured Image by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images]