I am not going to lie. I’ve been very unimpressed with NBC and their live musicals. When the idea first came forward. with The Sound of Music, I was excited. That was true until I heard that Carrie Underwood would lead (I only managed to watch 30 minutes of it). I was not impressed with Peter Pan and never managed to see The Wiz, despite hearing pretty decent things about it. However, I felt maybe NBC had finally figured it out with Hairspray. Maybe they were ready to do it right especially with the fact that Fox had successfully taken the broadcasted live musical crown with their production of Grease. So did Hairspray stand up or fall flat?
Let’s start with the two biggest technical issues: cameras and microphones. I honestly thought Maddie Baillio (Tracy Turnblad) forgot some of her lines in the opening song “Good Morning Baltimore” because her microphone kept going out at times when I couldn’t see her face. The microphones continued to be a problem in big numbers when cheering from the audience, or the music was still being played, drowned out the actors singing or speaking.
During the performance I was also extremely confused on many of the camera angles. I know nothing about the actual science of producing but half of the time I had no idea as to why some of the angles looked like a hidden camera in a shady bootleg recording of a Broadway production. And don't act dumb, cause we all know exactly what I'm talking about because you all have watched one or two on Youtube.
Hairspray is a musical. Cast people who know how to sing. As a big budget musical, I understand they need to cast stars that will bring people in, but Derek Hough (Corny Collins) could not sing and was given three songs. He’s a very talented dancer but I was not impressed with his singing or even Garrett Clayton (Link Larkin) despite being very easy on the eyes. Some casting choices I just did not understand including Jennifer Hudson (Motormouth Maybelle). Now before you sharpen your pitchforks, I will say I am a fan of her singing. She’s certainly talented and don't get me started on how she had me crying during her rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been.” However I think NBC missed an opportunity in casting a bigger girl for this role, especially because her first song is titled “Big, Blonde and Beautiful." Next to race, one of the biggest themes of this show is being an outcast, or in Tracy and Edna’s case a “big girl.”
While some could not sing, or weren’t exactly what I was hoping casting wise, others most certainly were both including Tony-Award winner Kristin Chenoweth . We all knew she’d rock it, despite getting her bow cut off at the end (WHO IS TO BLAME FOR THIS!?). Her portrayal of Velma Von Tussle was hilarious, engaging and she made the part her own. When it came to singing I think the most underrated performance of the night was Dove Cameron who played Amber Von Tussle. For many, this was our first exposure to her and I felt like she nailed it. At times I felt she was a little too whiny to be the “mean girl” but I guess you can’t have it all, she was still fantastic.
These were some of my biggest pros and cons. I could ramble on more about how I felt Link and Tracy had no chemistry once so ever or how I thought the “behind the scenes” before commercial breaks totally broke the illusion but as I said before we can’t have it all.
Big picture though, Hairspray was enjoyable. It had some very talented singing by some, dancing and in general, it’s a musical with some catchy songs. NBC has done one thing that you cannot deny and it is that it is bringing more people into the world of live theater. With productions like these, theater is able to reach and introduce themselves to a wider national audience and I think for the theater industry that’s fantastic. I hope that with these live musicals, smaller theaters across the nation start getting more business and exposure.