REVIEW: Hairspray Live!

Recording CoverCan it really be that almost 15 years have passed since the bubbly and boisterous musical Hairspray first took Broadway by storm? The show lived on the Great White Way for 8 ½ years, winning the Tony for Best Musical, had numerous regional productions, and was even made into a well-received movie. In many ways, Hairspray, despite its age, has never really left the modern Broadway canon. With tomorrow night's production of Hairspray Live! on NBC, we'll have one more version to add to the mix.

In advance of the live performance, a pre-recorded soundtrack of the television event has been released and it's a solid, fun recording of the show. The 60s pastiche score by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman sounds as fresh and peppy as ever and is performed by a talented cast of Broadway, Hollywood, and pop music vets. Newcomer Maddie Baillio sounds great as Hairspray heroine Tracy Turnblad, and if her vocal choices aren't quite as idiosyncratic or quirky as original Tracy, Marisaa Jaret Winokur, she still provides a strong, winning performance. Harvey Fierstein is back as Tracy's mother, Edna, this time sounding even growlier and gruffer, which seems hard to imagine even for him; still it will be wonderful to finally have Fierstein's iconic Tony Award-winning performance preserved on film. Kristin Chenoweth oozes smarm as Velma Von Tussle and puts over her big number "Miss Baltimore Crabs" with aplomb and some newly interpolated signature high notes. As Motormouth Maybelle, Jennifer Hudson (if a bit young for the part), sings the hell out of "I Know Where I've Been." If there is one disappointment with the cast, at least vocally, it's Ariana Grande as Penny Pingleton. While it will remain to be seen what she does with the role in the live performance, on the album, her voice is entirely wrong for the score, pitched in a contemporary 21st century, throaty pop sound, that evokes none of the 60s sound that this musical requires.

The live event soundtrack features songs as well from the movie version including "Ladies' Choice" and "Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)." The orchestrations while "adapted" for this version still sound quite similar to Harold Wheeler's wonderful, original rich versions. If this album doesn't replace the original Broadway cast recording, it's a more than solid, quite enjoyable addition to the pantheon of Hairspray recordings.

1 Comment

JosephNYC wrote on January 6, 2017

It only ran for 6 and half years, not 8 and half.

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