hairspray-logoAfter the release of seven live TV musicals, Hairspray Live! stirred excitement among fans when NBC announced its production. Lining up an impressive cast and crew, the musical rivaled that of Grease: Live, but had room for improvement.

NBC made clear that, despite hiring the same producers as the 2007 film, Hairspray Live! plot would resemble the broadway production. The network hired Alex Rudzinski (Grease: Live) and Kenny Leon (The Wiz Live!) to direct it. This mix of old and new directors created a new surge of possibilities – and duo certainly delivered.

After hiring Rudzinski, NBC’s use of live audiences and immersive camera angles in Hairspray Live! did not surprise anyone. Like Grease, Hairspray Live! proved an optimal candidate to use a live audience, considering its storyline centers around a live TV show. Placed in all the right scenes, the audiences added to the feel of authenticity of the performance.

However, attempts at more creative camera angles failed to fully complement the actors. The very nature of a TV musical blurs the line between a Broadway musical and a made-for-television movie. For example, a live TV musical’s separately located sets allow for more depth and detail, like a TV show or movie might have, rather than watching a musical on one stage. While this idea offers ground-breaking possibilities, it goes to waste if directors cannot compensate for the close-ups and viewing angles that they would otherwise not have to consider. If the directors had filmed the musical on one stage facing only the direction of the audience like a Broadway musical, camerawork would be much more direct and head-on; the pressure to swivel and find dramatic angles like those in movies would not even exist.

In Hairspray Live!, the directors failed to fully consider these close-ups when Link visits an incarcerated Tracy. In this scene, he speaks to her through a line of window bars from outside. But because they each lean in close to the bars, which are unnaturally thick and inadequately spaced apart, the camera struggles to find an angle at which viewers can see their expressions. Unfortunately, because this happened at a pivotal point in the musical, this mistake is hard to ignore.

Nevertheless, the amount of talent within the cast could easily overwhelm fans. Stars such as Harvey Fierstein (Independence Day) as Edna Turnblad, Kristin Chenoweth (Wicked) as Velma Von Tussle, Ariana Grande (Victorious) as Penny Pingleton, Derek Hough (Dancing with the Stars) as Corny Collins, Jennifer Hudson (Winnie Mandela) as Motormouth Maybelle and Ephraim Sykes (Hamilton) as Seaweed J. Stubbs added newcomer Maddie Baillio, a humble high school theater star only three years ago, to the musical.

Baillio held her own even among such impressive stars. Everyone, including Baillio, nailed their dancing routines. But despite successfully holding their notes, the singing did not quite reach fans’ expectations, failing to reach the full potential of a cast chalk-full of such fantastic singing artists. The vocal numbers simply did not have the right “umph” and conviction their passionate lyrics called for. Only one performance, Hudson’s “I Know Where I’ve Been,” took full use of Hudson’s capabilities, and the scene shined as a result.

The biggest problem with the show had nothing to do with the cast or crew members. NBC’s over-the-top effort to wrap viewers into the show with behind-the-scenes looks nearly threw off the focus of the production entirely. Its heavy concentration on behind-the-scenes action, which hardly showed anything of real importance, indicates it tried too hard to be like Fox’s production of Grease: Live when it showed behind-the-scenes glimpses. The difference: not only did Grease: Live have Mario Lopez to host it, but they kept it strictly as a little bit of interesting insider information, while NBC seemed not to know what to do with its airtime.

Overall, Hairspray Live!, despite some shortcomings, proved a success.

The HiLights

Rating: 3.75 stars

Title: Hairspray Live!

Release Date: 12/7/16

Click here for a review on Grease: Live and here for a review on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.


By Jessenia Jalca

I'm a senior and the design editor on the newspaper staff. I love God, and I love dogs.

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