Hairspray Live! Review: Welcome to the 60s!


Now that everyone’s hair has been sprayed so that it won’t move until the next decade, let’s review the show!

Overall, I really loved the show. To be fair, it’s kind of a can’t miss show for me anyway, and with this cast, that would be hard to do. There were some things I didn’t like, which I’ll get to later, but I found it to be a well done production in general.

The opening was great, though I don’t think anyone will ever top last winter’s Grease Live! opening with the beach fake out and the run across the studio lot while Jessie J sang. Good Morning Baltimore opened the show with the same sort of excitement and movement though, and the momentum kept up throughout most of the show. It did drag a bit at times, mostly because they added enough commercials to turn a 2 hour show into a 3 hour broadcast.

In the current political climate, it was incredible to see a show centered around so many women of different sizes, ages, and ethnicities, celebrating them all, asking for them all to be respected. The show has an important message of acceptance for everyone and encouragement to keep fighting the good fight while working together.

The sets and costume accessories were stuffed full of period details and Easter Eggs. I think I remember my mother and grandmother owning some of those purses. I want to own Velma’s crab crown for my next trip to the beach. Starting with the old NBC peacock logo that was used in the 60s was a nice touch. The little fake rats on wheels in the street during Good Morning Baltimore were hysterical, especially when one got stuck on something. Everything in the Turnblad apartment was a hoot, but I especially loved the old 45 records on Tracy’s wall, the vintage (even in ’62) washing machine in the kitchen, and their turquoise rotary dial phone. Best Easter Egg of all- Baltimore St. included the Divine Pet Food store sign with a neon pink flamingo, a nod to John Waters’ 1972 film Pink Flamingos, which starred John Waters’ muse, the original Edna Turnblad, Divine.

The costumes, hair, and makeup were fabulous for the most part. I loved Edna’s pin curls that she never unpinned. I hated Tracy and Edna’s matching outfits from Pinky’s that looked like someone threw sparklers and feather boas at cheap hotel bedspreads. Velma’s dresses were all gorgeous. Tracy and Edna’s finale dresses were both fantastic and flattering. Link and Corny’s matching shiny suits were also cool. Penny and Mabel in the finale: 😍 😍 😍 😍 😍

The songs from Hairspray are the best part of the show, and they were well done here. Everyone’s singing voice was up to the task (no stunt casting with stars who can’t sing, thank goodness) and the arrangements worked. The choreography was good, but not great. After seeing how out of breath the cast were after You Can’t Stop the Beat, and remembering how often they were during The Wiz Live! as well, it’s understandable. They don’t have the chance to do these shows onstage every night for 6 weeks to get in that kind of shape. Ephraim Sykes was fantastic in Run and Tell That, with his jumps and splits. Ladies Choice, followed by the live Oreo cookie commercial, was a highlight. Corny Collins got to show off his dancing, dunking, tossing, and catching, ending with nothing in his teeth. He nailed it. Derek Hough is a consummate professional.

The cast all seemed like they were comfortable together and enjoyed putting on the show. The younger actors seemed kind of nervous and tight for the first few minutes but loosened up quickly. Garrett Clayton was funny when he blew his line then recovered after You Can’t Stop the Beat, then Maddie was slightly thrown. They were cute. Has her line about a musicology degree always been there?

I would really like to see Ariana Grande cast as the smartest person in the room someday. She’s always fabulous in whatever she does, including this, so how about we stop typecasting her as the dumb girl? She and Ephraim Sykes had excellent chemistry together. He was smokin in his own right as Seaweed as well.

Andrea Martin and Martin Short killed it, and looked like they were having a ball.

I’m so glad we got a close up filmed version of Harvey Fierstein’s Edna Turnblad. Such a wonderful performance. So much warmth and spark, so much chemistry with the other actors, especially Martin Short and Maddie Baillio. Harvey played a great, nuanced mom, going from warm when Tracy needed it to ready to fight Velma to protect her baby. You could tell he’s played this part for years and slips into it like a second skin. He totally deserved that Tony. Edna and Wilbur’s relationship is such an inspiration as an example of true, enduring love, even when the partners and the circumstances aren’t perfect. Harvey and Martin played their chemistry with warmth, charm, and sweet humor. Timeless to Me was adorable. Those two old pros clearly had fun hamming it up together.

Maddie Baillio was incredible. She carried the show like a pro. She added lots of lovely flourishes to the songs, had chemistry with the rest of the cast, was a great dancer, a good actor , funny, and charismatic. There’s just something about her that I’m really drawn to. it was also nice to see two other Tracys included. Ricki Lake (from the original 1988 John Waters film) and Marissa Jaret Winokur (from the original Broadway production) joined the cast for Welcome to the 60s.

Dove Cameron and Kristin Chenoweth made a perfect mother daughter pair in looks, voice, everything. Loved them, loved to hate them. I still want a silvery, glittery crab crown just like Cheno’s.

Garrett had the Elvis moves down as Link. He was hilarious. He did a great job looking like Zac Efron, too.

Was Edna supposed to be making Tracy’s clothes or was it lazy costuming?? Her school blouses and skirts were made from the same 2 or 3  patterns with matching hair tie, just different fabrics.

What was up with the quick cuts to and from commercials ruining Jennifer Hudson’s entrance and the end of I Know Where I’ve Been? Overall they made those commercial cuts at awkward times and too abruptly. Jennifer was sublime, as always, but she deserved a little breathing room for audience reaction. Darren Criss’s bumpers were fun and added to the excitement though. Can he actually be cast in the next one?

My only significant complaint is the lighting design and execution. They left Tracy in the dark several times in Mama I’m a Big Girl Now, when it looked like she was meant to have a spot on her. Overall the show was dark and shadowy, poorly and unflatteringly lit. It gave the show an amateurish look.

Next December is Bye Bye Birdie with Jennifer Lopez as Rose Alvarez. Before seeing the relatively low ratings  (it still won the night handily and was only slightly less watched than 2014’s Peter Pan) I was going to predict Mamma Mia! for 2018. Now I think they’ll go for a safer choice. It’ll be either The Music Man (which they’ve been considering for years) or Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella in 2018.

Next year, Bye Bye Birdie starring Jennifer Lopez:

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