Recap/Review: NBC’s Hairspray Live!

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Lauryn Azu

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NBC’s Hairspray Live! thrilled audiences across the country with its evening premiere on Wednesday,  December 7. Although it has since proved to be NBC’s lowest rated TV musical, generally critics agree that it has been one of the NBC’s best live musicals since NBC began this holiday tradition in December of 2013 with the premiere of The Sound of Music Live!

Hairspray is the high-spirited and colorful story of a teenaged girl in 1960s Baltimore, who dreams of dancing on the popular Corny Collins Show, despite her stigmatized size. It was originally a 1988 cult film, then dramatized into a successful Broadway show. WBHS students who viewed Hairspray Live! were more familiar with the 2007 remake, starring teen heartthrob Zac Efron.

Despite its changes throughout the years, Hairspray Live! kept core elements of the story the same. The cast was a diverse mix of Broadway legends, pop-stars, and debut starlets.

“I think what I liked is that they’re weren’t many from the original Broadway. It’s more that they meshed together the two, but they mostly stuck to the Broadway version, which I think was good,” said senior David Wilson.

Even if NBC did involve the use of big-name singers such as Jennifer Hudson and Ariana Grande, these are stars that have a background in theatre and are used to singing in live productions.

© NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
Jennifer Hudson brought the house down as Motormouth Mabel in Hairspray Live!

Ephraim Sykes, a relative unknown outside of the theatre world, did especially amazing in his portrayal of Seaweed Stubbs. (Did anyone else peep that mid-air split during “Run and Tell That”? You just can’t rehearse that kind of talent!) Hopefully after Hairspray Live! Sykes will finally receive the recognition he deserves.

“I personally and a lot of people in my cast of Hairspray weren’t a big fan of how Ariana Grande played Penny. We just thought she didn’t bring enough of the quirkiness to the character of Penny,” said sophomore Shelby Smith.

 Grande’s performance was indeed mediocre, however Grande’s superb vocals made up for her portrayal of Penny Pingleton, especially in “Without Love,” and the finale, “Come So Far.”

© Brian Bowen Smith/NBC
Ariana Grande played Penny Pingleton in Hairspray Live!

Currently, Shelby is acting in a rendition of Hairspray at the Berman Theatre of the Jewish Community Center. “Being in Hairspray at the same time as Hairspray Live! adds to the anticipation. [I was] excited to see how they do this, and then I’m excited to see how we do it in comparison,” said Shelby.

Myself and many other students who viewed Hairspray Live! did not appreciate how Nikki Blonsky, the star of the 2007 movie we all know and love, was not invite to cameo as a Pinkette, as other previous “Tracies” were. Both Marissa Janet Winkour and Ricki Lake were seen donned in the wig and pink dress on stage,  but where was Nikki? Nowhere to be found. Did she have a prior engagement on December 7, or did NBC just snub her?

An aspect unique to live televised theatre is the combination of the usual perils normal theatre productions face, paired with the fact that millions across the country are tuning in. Any mishap or mistake wither with the cast or crew can immediately be tweeted and liked in a matter of seconds. “There was a technical difficulty [in Hairspray Live!]. The lights went off at one point and if they mess up in a song or miss their lines, they can’t just re-do it. But luckily, sometimes you can’t tell if that was supposed to happen or not,” said junior Marissa Stone. Aside from the microphone issues in “Good Morning Baltimore,” and the brief blackout in “Mama I’m a Big Girl Now,” Hairspray Live!  went off without a hitch.

So, what draws today’s teenagers to the story of a girl trying to integrate a TV show over 50 years ago? “I think the themes, still pertain to today. Integrating society, being yourself, loving whoever want to love,” said junior Blake Rubenstein.

Hairspray Live! isn’t just a peppy musical, it’s bigger than that. This is a play that is a reflection of American culture and society, which is why it is actually more relevant than ever. Even though it is 2016, and we have indeed come a long way since the 60s, Hairspray Live! shows us that the fight for equality and justice in our society is never really over.

So what did you think about Hairspray Live? Leave a comment to share your opinion below!

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