Highs and Lows: Hairspray Live!

It’s December, which means NBC is putting up its annual holiday recital, in the form of a live musical! In years past, we’ve seen The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, and The Wiz, and now we’re #blessed with a show that has given us the gift of both Harvey Fierstein and John Travolta in women’s clothing – Hairspray. I personally love this show because it’s everything a traditional musical should be – big song and dance numbers, a lead character to root for, unexpected love interests, racial tension, and just good old time that will leave you feeling happy and full of glee. Hence, it is the perfect show for NBC’s live musical library. So did this live TV iteration live up to its previous stage and screen successors? Overall, it’s a yes for me, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a few highs and lows while watching it. Did you feel the same?

Low: Good Morning, Baltimore

I’m not particularly proud of starting with a low, but that’s how the show started for me. Good Morning, Baltimore is Tracy Turnblad’s big intro song, and it felt… flat? I was getting vibes that Maddie Baillio was holding back a little and just wanted her to belt out with more enthusiasm. Generally speaking, I thought Maddie was fine, but honestly, I think Nikki Blonsky made a better Tracy.

High: The Intro of The Corny Collins Show

It wasn’t until the reveal of The Corny Collins Show that I felt I was truly watching Hairspray, and what a reveal it was. Tracy’s bedroom walls split in half and Derek Hough appears as Corny Collins on the set of his show in all its pink and turquoise accents. A 1960s dream. All the Nicest Kids in Town were great, including Brenda, who says one of my favorite lines in the musical: “Brenda will be taking a leave of absence from the show. How long are you gonna be gone, Brenda?” “Just nine months!”

High: Ariana Grande

Both her ponytail and EVERYTHING ABOUT HER. I don’t care, y’all. Not afraid to say I love Ariana Grande. Besides My Everything and Dangerous Woman and her SNL impressions and the fact she’s a theater geek just like us, it’s easy to forget (for older folks at least) that she has excellent comedic timing. Every single line she said I lit’rally laughed out loud. From the first moment she popped her gum and said a line about perspiration, to talking to TV trying to say hi to Tracy, to being completely enamored by Seaweed, Ari proved she’s as good an actress as she is a vocal powerhouse.

High: Harvey Fierstein

 

At this point, Edna Turnblad is part of Harvey’s bloodstream. He originated the role on Broadway in 2002, and even won a Tony Award for it, so yeah, he’s done this before. And he’s done it well. Good lord he has done it well.

Low: Darren Criss as a Backstage Host

Pero like, why? And there was something called the “Social Squad” that he stood next to? I like you a lot, Darren, but I don’t need you chasing down Ariana Grande in a cart and calling her a “dangerous woman” with a wink to the camera. SHHHHH.

LowHigh: Dove Cameron

I had a vague sense of who Dove Cameron was prior to this (Disney kid, played Kristin Chenoweth’s daughter in The Descendants, recently broke off her engagement), but had never heard her sing before. I was delightfully surprised by her voice. However some of the big belting notes were beyond her reach, and acting wise, I felt at some points she was merely doing an impression of KChen and not acting as herself. However, I think overall she did a great job and made a good impression on all those who are seeing her perform for the first time.

High: Miss Baltimore Crabs

If you put Kristin Chenoweth in anything we will watch it. And we will praise her. Because she is worthy queen. She nailed Miss Baltimore Crabs, and I am dead from not only this dress with the crabs brooch but also by the crab hands she puts up at the end. KChen is a national treasure.

High: Ladies Choice

Ladies’ Choice is one of two new songs that was added to the 2007 movie musical, and smokeshow Zac Efron did a great job with it, albeit it was a shorter scene. This time Corny/Derek Hough takes on the track, and while he is no Zefron, it was still enjoyable. What made it even more enjoyable is that it was the setting for a good old-fashioned dance number, which I am a sucker for. What’s a musical without a bunch of chaînés turns, amirite?

HighLows: Ad Integration

My initial reaction to seeing such a blatant ReddiWhip ad in Hairspray was one of disgust. A fake dancer walking through the Hairspray set moments after a ReddiWhip truck was in clear view on the Baltimore street? No thanks. Then Corny sang praises of the all-American snack, the Oreo, and later Toyota made its way into the broadcast, and I realized it was all actually very brilliant. The set up of The Corny Collins Show, along with its own fake product integration of Ultra Cluth Hairspray, is fertile ground of real product integration. It would’ve been more weird if Oreo tried to make its way into Grease Live, but in this TV musical, it’s a perfect fit.

High: The Costumes

Corny’s jackets! Previously mentioned crab brooch! Edna’s sequined red dress! Penny’s green number with sky high white boots! JHud’s sparkly gold pantsuit! All of it was great and fabulous!

Low: Garrett Clayton

Ok, “Low” seems a little too harsh for this, but here we are. Since Hairspray opened on Broadway in 2002, many a handsome and talented men have stepped into Link Larkin’s shoes. Starting with Matthew Morrison in the OBC, other notable replacements include our boyfriend Aaron Tveit, Andrew Rannells, Ashley Parker Angel, Nick Jonas and of course, Zefron. Needless to say, it’s a dreamboat role to take on. However, I was not on board with Garrett. Here are my thoughts while watching him:

A) Who? Who is this? A Disney kid?

B) He’s not quite hitting all the notes.

C) Is the problem that I am too old to find him attractive? Probably.

HighLow: Three generations of Tracys

To have the OG movie Tracy and the OBC musical Tracy make cameos is great. I love a good cameo. Rosie! Sean Hayes! Billy Eichner! But to me, the Ricki Lake and Marissa Jarret Winokur appearances seemed a little forced. They showed up and sandwiched Maddie then stared straight down the barrel for about 2 seconds too long. It felt like that 4th wall breaking when the Tanners mention Michelle on Fuller House.

High: Motormouth Records

Everything about these scenes. I want to live there and dance to vinyl and eat chicken and waffles and be serenaded by Hamilton’s own Ephraim Sykes (Seaweed) and be outdanced and outsang by Shahadi W. Joseph (Little Inez).

Lows: The Lighting and Camera Blocking

There were moments when some of the actors weren’t lit properly or the blocking made it so you couldn’t see the main characters faces, and it was annoying. Yes, yes, it’s live TV, but that’s what dres rehearsals are for. Shouts to all the crew tho – I know it takes a lot A LOT of work do pull this off. But I mean, still.

High: Adorable Couple Is Adorable

Martin Short was such a perfect fit for Wilbur Turnblad that I had to look it up to confirm he’s never played the part before. He is joined by onscreen wife Harvey in Timeless to Me, song that’s so tender and warm-and-fuzzy that it doesn’t really matter who sings it  – it’l always be timeless.

High: Jennifer Hudson

We went to the Chruch of Jennifer Hudson last night, and were practically ready to offer up all the money we had after watching her sing I Know Where I’ve Been. It was the most soulful version I’ve witnessed and a reminder that racial inequality in the ’60s isn’t something that’s frozen in time. “White day is every day. You gotta be more specific.”

High: Curtain Call

The other new song added to the 2007 movie was Come So Far (Got So Far to Go), which only played in the end credits. I always loved that song, so I’m glad that it was performed live by two divas in JHud and Ariana at the end, and the curtain call was the right thing to go along with it. I admit I teared up a bit during the curtain call, because the cast is filled with pure joy, elation and relief that the show went off without a hitch, and I’m just so proud of people who put in hard work. Well done everyone!

Stray Observations
  • I could watch Andrea Martin (Penny’s mom) in anything and still adore her.
  • For some reason, the message of racism didn’t seem to be as powerful or come across as a major plot point as it is in the musical or the 2007 movie
  • Hairspray has built-in cheers from the audience at The Corny Collins Show, and I noticed NBC got the hint that not having people clap after a huge number is weird. Thank GOD they brought some people in to fill in weird voids
  •  Overall, Hairspray is probably the best live musical they’ve done since starting a few years ago, but I think Grease Live still takes the cake for me. I mean I’ve watched that at least five times. Willingly!
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Remember When Glee Wasn’t That Bad?

After hundreds of musical numbers, endless hookups between characters and dozens of Slushees wasted, Glee ends its six-season run on Friday. What’s that? You didn’t realize Glee was still on? Or that it’s been six seasons? Or that it’s managed to stay on this long? Yeah, you’re not the only one.

Back when Ryan Murphy’s campy musical comedy made its debut in 2009, it became the hottest show on TV. They earned numerous awards (including a Golden Globe Award for Best TV Series, had best-selling albums, a successful concert tour, a series of young adult books and even a reality competition show to be on Glee.

And then it jumped the shark. And then it jumped the shark again. And then it did a semi-serious episode about school shootings. And then Cory Monteith tragically died and it was never the same again. But through all this, for some reason I’ve managed to stick with it. I would consider myself a high-functioning Gleek circa season 1 and 2, even going to said concert tour and meeting some of the cast during a CD signing. But as the show wavered, so did my dedication as a fan, and I put Glee somewhere in the middle to low end of my TV priority list.

As the show comes to an end, the writers are obviously (and rightfully so) trying to tie everything up in a nice bow and have things come full circle, while still creating a hopeful future for its characters. The show is called Glee, after all. As the glee club takes its final bow, I have been reminded that the show was actually really good at times, and I think that’s the legacy any series wants to leave, no matter how horrible it got towards the end. If a show’s good, it’s good, and how about we remember just how good those times were, shall we?

Halo/Walking on Sunshine

{Season 1, Episode 6}

Early on, Glee was known for taking hit songs and putting them together in “mashups”, which obviously isn’t a new idea, but the show brought the practice back into mainstream pop culture. Not only did they do that, but they did it well, and this was just the first of many. *This is also the ep where all the Glee club members are high on some nasal decongestant drug, which explains why they’re acting insane. See, it used to be hilar!

Jump

{Season 1, Episode 12}

I remember watching this thinking A) That looks like so much fun B) This is actually airing on network TV right now. Glee helped usher in musicals into the small screen, and this definitely helped it become as huge as it did.

Since U Been Gone

{Season 1, Episode 13}

In an effort to pay tribute to their teach Mr. Shue, the New Directions put together this number, and for eagle-eyed Gleeks, you’ll remember that choreo from all the numbers they had done up until that point were put into this performance, and I still see the image of Will running through the hall to confess his love to Emma burned in my memory.

Dream On

{Season 1, Episode 19}

Neil Patrick Harris won an Emmy for this guest starring role. I think that speaks for itself.

Faithfully

{Season 1, Episode 22}

Both Cory and Lea name this song their favorite from all the numbers they’ve done on the show, and it’s clear why.

Teenage Dream

{Season 2, Episode 6}

Remember when we didn’t know who Darren Criss was unless you saw him in the Harry Potter musical on the YouTube? Well this number marked the time he changed our lives forever.

Marry You

{Season 2, Episode 8}

Basically any scene between Finn and Rachel that give me romantical feels makes me cry because Cory’s gone, and this is a particularly sweet scene right before his mom marries Kurt’s dad.

Valerie

{Season 2, Episode 9}

I find myself saying ‘Santana is the only reason I’m still watching this show’, because she’s got a great voice but also her sass meter is off the charts, and she’s often the only one who can spit some realness into Lima, Ohio.

Last Christmas

{Season 2, Episode 10}

Yeah. Finn and Rachel forever.

Thriller/Heads Will Roll

{Season 2, Episode 11}

This was from the episode that aired right after the Super Bowl, and as customary for any network show that airs after the most-watched show of the year, the episode needs to pull out all the stops to keep people watching. This was a little weird because, zombies, but also great because it’s Michael Jackson AND it’s a mashup, which we know, Glee does so well.

Dreams

{Season 2, Episode 19}

Ah April Rhodes/Kristin Chenoweth. My favorite alcoholic on the show. Because of its popularity, Glee had the opportunity to perform songs out of sacred songbooks, including this episode, which was dedicated to Fleetwood Mac, and I’m glad this song was put in the hands of Cheno and Matt Morrison, a couple that will not fuck it up.

Let Me Love You

{Season 3, Episode 13}

I have said from the beginning that Artie/Kevin McHale is one of the best male singers on the show. It’s probably because I have a thing for R&B sounding voices, but I always hoped he would get more solos.

How Will I Know

{Season 3, Episode 17}

Because Glee is the show you watch to see it tackle hard-hitting issues and current events, they dedicated a whole ep to Whitney Houston following her death. They opened the show with this number, an acappella version of one of my personal favorite Whitney songs. It set the right tone for the rest of the show, and also proved bigger is not always better when it comes to musical numbers.

Don’t Stop Believin’

{Season 5, Episode 13}

File under: one of the times Glee could have ended but didn’t. This was from the 100th episode that aired last year, when a bunch of old Glee club members came back to pay tribute to Mr. Shue. And in full Full Circle moment, they sang the last song from the Pilot, and one of the show’s most well-known numbers, Don’t Stop Believin’. The original had Cory singing opposite Lea, but obviously the rest filled in, and as they all surround each other on that stage, I couldn’t help but tear up – and think it would’ve been a satisfying ending to the series.