“Hairspray Live!” Almost Falls Flat


Zach Green, Website Editor

In a Netflix-dominated era, NBC was the first network to realize the potential of traditional programming’s last inimitable asset: the live experience. Their inaugural production of “The Sound of Music Live!” shattered expectations and ratings alike, paving the way for future live TV musical endeavors. However, something of that initial magic feels lost in “Hairspray Live!”.

Its weakness probably isn’t in the casting. Newcomer Maddie Baillio certainly steps up to the plate with her faithful portrayal of Tracy Turnblatt. Dove Cameron takes a break from doing her signature (albeit cringe-worthy) Disney Channel impression of Kristin Chenoweth to actually perform with the Broadway legend as the classic love-to-hate Von Tussle mother-and-daughter duo. Jennifer Hudson’s face-melting rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been,” the show’s gospel-inflected 11-o’clock ballad, will make you wonder why it’s taken this long for the star to play Motormouth Maybelle.

Garrett Clayton embodies teen heartthrob Link Larkin with the plastic soul of an H&M mannequin. Yes, he looks like a Ken doll. But he is hardly believable as a heterosexual love interest, let alone an Elvis-wannabe. The ultimate pleasant surprise here is “Hamilton” vet Ephraim Sykes’s memorable turn as Seaweed J. Stubbs.

Sure, the production had its fair share of technical difficulties, but that’s to scale with its unprecedented ambition. In fact, the overwhelming deluge of cameos may lead you to question if their budget was allotted in the right areas (to name a few: Rosie O’Donnell was a gym coach, Billy Eichner flickered on and off screen for maybe 15 seconds, and two original Broadway Tracy’s showed up in the ensemble for some reason. Oh, and also that dude from “Will & Grace”).

The ultimate flaw in this production was its lack of passion. Especially for a musical with such a powerful (and hauntingly relevant) message, focus is too often shifted to the in-between moments. The cast being golf-carted across the soundstage while the ever-obnoxious host, Darren Criss, distracts them with jokes hardly worthy of Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards. Period-parodying product placement. Shots from staged viewing parties across the country (and one entertainingly embarrassing newscaster who can’t seem to remember her local sports team if her life depended on it).

In an effort the pull all the stops, NBC forgot the one thing that has made “Hairspray” an enduring, uplifting classic: its heart.