I love Hairspray.
Like love it, love it.
There were nights in high school where it seemed like the only thing helping me hold on to my sanity was belting “Good Morning Baltimore” in my friend Lauren’s car.
“I Can Hear the Bells,” was a go to audition piece when I needed to show that I could “act.” (I cannot act, I can be cute in “I Can Hear The Bells,” and mildly affecting in “Nothing,” from A Chorus Line.) A theater camp show where a group of us acted out scenes and songs, as though we were girls at a pajama party in the 60’s was a highlight of my career. (The high point was playing Mrs. Paroo in The Music Man.)
Anyway, this show matters to me in a big way. So, I was excited for NBC’s live version, especially after The Wiz was so fantastic, and Grease Live, upped the ante on what this kind of programming could do.
Hairspray Live, did not live up. It wasn’t actively bad, but it wasn’t anything special, outside of a few really great performances. Overall, I think moving the production to LA and away from Broadway talent was a big mistake. The things that propped up even the weaker points of The Sound Of Music Live and Peter Pan Live were the true blue Broadway vets giving it their all. And the pros pulled it out again for Hairspray.
Harvey Fierstien, Kristin Chenoweth, Martin Short, Derek Hough and Jennifer Hudson were outstanding. Even newcomer Maddie Baillio as Tracy turned in a decent performance, full of vulnerability and she’s got the voice for sure. But with the exception of Dove Cameron’s consumate mean girl Amber, the young cast seemed out of sync with each other and the piece. Garret Clayton and Ariana Grande in particular seemed miscast, neither of them understanding the comedy of their characters and in Grande’s case, a bad fit for the singing too.
This felt like a huge step back. We’ll see how things go next time around with a Jennifer Lopez lead Bye Bye Birdie. (Now, Clayton I could see doing very well as Conrad Birdie, as the swoony “It’s Takes Two” was the only part of his performance that I liked.)
But I’m still happy that this exists. This has been a big couple of years for musical theater, and it feels like we’re not going to get shoved back in our weird little corner anymore, and I’m psyched about that.
But this performance, when Billy Eichner came out at the end, I expected him to start shouting and smashing things, telling them that they were desecrating something beautiful.
He didn’t, but that would have been funnier than “Without Love,” a hilarious song that was played straight.