"Hairspray Live!" : The Best & Worst

Chris Peterson

  • OnStage Founder

Last night NBC treated us to their annual tradition of airing live musical theatre. Was it flawless? Of course not. But there were a lot of good aspects of this production to enjoy. Let's break it down. 

The Best

It's live theatre on TV

At the end of the day, whether you loved or hated it, we were all watching live musical theatre on TV. That is a point that should never get lost in all of the social media opinion. I'm 35 years old and this type of televised event has only recently become a fixture in my life, let alone a bi-annual event. 

So before we get caught up in all the critique, let's take a step back, thank those who feel this is a money-making enough venture to put on major network TV and imagine the ripple effect these events have for young aspiring performers everywhere. 

The Tip-of-the-Hats to the Original Broadway Cast

I'm sure I'm not the only one that got a fuzzy feeling when seeing Harvey Fierstein wear Edna's costume again. He is as synonymous with that role as Ethel Merman is to Mama Rose. His presence felt like more of a blessing that it was okay for us to enjoy this as much as he was. I also really liked seeing Marissa Jaret Winokur's appearance as well as Ricki Lake who played the role in the original movie. 

Maddie Baillio

For a college student with absolutely zero professional gigs on her resume, plucked out of an open call, I thought Baillio did a great job. While her Tracy was never as lively as Marissa Jaret Winokur's(or as feisty as Nicki Blonsky's for that matter), Baillio was sweet in the role with some very strong vocal moments. I can't imagine what it's like to be in her shoes. While there were some moments, especially early on, where she looked downright terrified, the moment never become too big for her and she delivered when she had to. 

Jennifer Hudson

While her acting ability will always leave a lot to be desired, there is no question that when Hudson sings, she can bring any house down. She did just that last night, upping the ante of the whole production with her renditions of (Not really all that)"Big, Blonde & Beautiful" and "I Know Where I've Been". With her second number, her stirring vocals became not only the highlight of the night but for all of TV for 2016 and the bar setter for these live musicals going forward. 

Gave Us Some Names to Watch

What was really great to see were some of the performances given by lesser known names, who might have just set themselves on quite the career course. I thought Dove Cameron was one of the best Amber Von Tussle's I've seen. She did such a great job that I kind of wish she was playing some other roles last night. Another name definitely to watch is Ephraim Sykes who played Seaweed. With incredibly impressive vocals and dancing, I feel we're going to see a lot more from him in the future. Original Cast of Hamilton and now this? Sykes has had a pretty good year. 

The Bad

Someone turn the lights on

I don't know how expensive these events are to produce, but you wouldn't think that NBC would skimp on lighting. Too many times the actors appeared to be in the dark(literally Tracy in "Mama I'm a Big Girl Now). Beyond that many of the scenes looked as if the brightness could have been turned up a bit more. 

Ariana Grande

I'm sure there is divided opinion of her performance last night. But for someone with countless live performance experience, I found Grande to be wooden and uncomfortable all night. Penny as a character, has 10 times the amount of personality than Grande gave to her. As much as I hate to say it, it looked more like she was more concerned of looking like "Ariana Grande" rather than just letting go and playing the role. This led to some awkward acting moments and almost zero-chemistry with Ephraim Sykes.

Cutting Kristin's Bow

This was a breaking-bottle-over-counter moment for me. In a very confusing direction choice, the camera cut out right before Chenoweth took her bow. I'm sure these things are timed to precise seconds, but the camera cut away to a few moments where nothing was happening before the next person took their bow, plenty of time for theatre fans to see one of their icons take a much deserved bow. 

Too Much Backstage Access Kills Momentum

While many probably loved the Darren Criss hosted breaks, I felt it pulled the curtain back a bit too far. The breaks themselves killed any momentum the show had. And call me a theatre conservative but I felt seeing the actors take golf cart rides,  quick changing, running lines, broke the Fourth Wall a bit too much. Fine for maybe an internet stream but on the main broadcast, it was a bit too much.

Inconsistent Use of Live Audience

There is a great debate on whether or not a live audience should be used with these broadcasts. Frankly, I'm for them, but they have to be used consistently. Last night, half the numbers were performed in front of the actual audience which led to thunderous applause, while the others that weren't, ended in silence or quick cuts to commercials, which become more glaring as the night went on.

Overall, this was a solid production. If I were to rank it, I would put it just slightly behind last year's The Wiz as the best of the lot. Needless to say J. Lo and Bye Bye Birdie has some shoes to fill next year.