In January, Musical Cyberspace is going to work through a chain of musicals. This is how it works: each day I will discuss, in brief, a musical linked to the previous day’s musical by some kind of common ground. It follows then, that if you – dear reader – liked the previous day’s show, then you might enjoy the current day’s show. Comments, as alway, are welcome!
If you like Dreamgirls, then you might like Hairspray.
While Hairspray is a considerably lighter show than Dreamgirls, the two have some commonality: race relations and music play a huge role in each musical, there is a crossover in some of the musical styles used in each respective score and, more superficially, both shows star a plus-size leading lady to great effect.
Hairspray is the musical version of the classic John Waters film starring Ricki Lake as plump, wannabe TV dancer, Tracy Turnblad. As in the film, Tracy wins a role on The Corny Collins Show and becomes a hit. But how will things turn out when she tries to get the show racially integrated? Will everyone still love her? Or will everyone turn their backs on her (as they do Huey, in Memphis, the show we featured in this column a few days ago)? Will Velma Von Tussle, the show’s racist producer, burst Tracy’s Bubble? And will true love conquer all if teenage heartthrob, Link Larkin, has to pick between Velma’s daughter, Amber, and Tracy? Highlights include “Welcome to the Sixties”, “I Know Where I’ve Been”, “Without Love”, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” and “I Can Hear the Bells”.
Hairspray might appear light and fluffy on the surface, but it has a core that belies its shiny exterior. The show really comes into its own as the racial integration plot gains momentum and the emotional climax of that particular narrative strand, the anthemic “I Know Where I’ve Been”, is incredibly moving. It’s perhaps the part of the adaptation that moves furthest from the style of the original film – but that’s why the musical works. Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s adaptation works well and keeps the piece moving – although I’ve yet to be convinced that having Motormouth Maybelle speak in rhyming couplets justifies itself as a mode of dramatic language in this show – and Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have yet to top themselves in creating a musical for the Broadway stage: Fame Becomes Me‘s bits and pieces were entertaining enough, but it was only a revue, and Catch Me If You Can was disappointing. Perhaps the pair need to step out from behind the shadow of the faux musical, as Michael John LaChiusa termed it, and try something truly original.
So, now it’s time to share your thoughts on Hairspray. And what shows would you suggest to fans of this show? See which one we’ll feature here tomorrow…