Time to Remember
I have to say I am very happy that NBC started the trend of bringing live musicals back to TV. Starting with the excruciating Carrie Underwood "Sound of Music" (I found it to be painfully lifeless), it successfully proved there was and is an audience for musicals on the boob tube, and each passing year since brings a more successful vision of a live theatrical experience. Hairspray Live! suceeds in many ways that previous years endeavors fell short and by and large was a resounding sucess.
The secret ingredient? A mixture of Disney produced TV stars and stellar Broadway vets in an ensemble show that allows everyone to shine. I found it refreshing in a culture obsessed with youth that it took the experienced stage veterans to show us how it's done. To be fair, the young performers (mostly) were sturdy and talented, but when the likes of Harvey Fierstein, Kristen Chenowith, or Martin Short grace the stage- well, let's just say they got schooled. Oh, and don't forget Jennifer Hudson. There is no way I could EVER forget Jennifer Hudson. She SLAYED!
The cast is lead by newcomer Maddie Baillio as Tracy Turnblad who is perfectly fine in the role but seemed a little overwhelmed and out of her element. As the show progressed, she appeared to have found her confidence but (In my opinion) seemed more like a spunky chorine thrust into the limelight that was not meant to be. Traceys of past productions (including the movie versions) have been abundantly charasmatic and vivacious- Baillio's Tracey seemed subdued and weak, especially in earlier scenes. She wasn't bad per se, but she left me wanting more.
Arrianna Grande as Penny Pingleton gave a lifeless performance that seemed more suited to a bad community theatre production. Her one moment (ONE) to shine comes in the finale, the exuberant "You can't stop the beat", and her vocals soared. Unfortunately her performance in the number was marred by her distracting bangs, leading me to beleive there truly is a reason she always pulls her hair into a ponytail. I wasn't distracted by her bangs, she was. It was troublesome to see her trying to peer from behind them, as if peeking through heavy curtains.
The rest of the cast of Disney vets were interchangeable to me. Garret Claytons' Link Larkin was pretty and probably better suited to be Zac Efrons' stand in, though his dancing was spot on. Dove Cameron as Amber Von Tussle just didn't bring enough mean girl vibe to the bad girl role- more bland than bad. Derek Hough as Corny Collins- well, his dancing was sublime, his acting adequate. Ephraim Sykes as Seaweed was outstanding but was unfortunately hampered by being paired with Grandes' Penny. Shahadi Wright was marvelous as little Inez, but THERE WAS NOT ENOUGH LITTLE INEZ!!! What Happened?
None of these performances could diminish the luster of the production numbers. That was when the show was most alive. Choreographer Jerry Mitchell does an amazing job at recreating some of the stage plays' iconic moves to the small screen while expanding the scope to fill the soundstage and backlots and creating new exciting moments (the back alley number "Run and tell that" illuminated by car headlights was stunning!) that thrilled with their presiscion. And "Welcome to the Sixties" was explosive and gave me goosebumps on goosebumps. That is what a musical should do.
Now to the pros. I need more Harvey Fierstein in my life. Period. Recreating his Broadway turn as Edna Turnblatt, Mr. Fierstein is a picture of proffessionalism and charisma. Whenever he graced the small screen I found it difficult to look elsewhere, his star wattage blinded me to all others. His Edna exuded warmth and charm, his gravelly voice charmed in its' grating way. I could litterally watched him all night. Fortunately he was paired with Martin Short who brought a true sweetness and charm to the role of Wilbur. Their duet, "Timeless to Me" was lovely and heartwarming.
Kristen Chenowith- what can I say. A legend. Grace and ease, a powerhouse, luminous, TINY!! Everything she does amuses me.
I read a few complaints online about Jennifer Hudson being to skinny to play Motormouth Maybelle and I say, "WHO CARES!!! " Her singing was stratospheric and worth the price of admission. She took it to another level and I couldn't have been more impressed. When ya clap in your own living room at the damn TV, you know it's that good.
All in all, the show was amazing. Sadly, the technical problems (sound, lighting, lack of knowledge how to FRAME a picture, too many shots of the backs of peoples heads while they are singing, CUTTING OUT CHENOWITHS CURTAIN CALL!!!!) marred a mostly seamless production. Foxs' production of "Grease" handled the tech side much better, showing it is possible to do it correctly.
But keep doing it, NBC. You get better with each passing production. Maybe your "Bye Bye Birdie" will be the one that nails it.
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