Hairspray Live: A Review

Originally posted on JohMyWord by Joash Musundi 

Hairspray is not only a show that means a lot to me, it’s a show that I personally feel is incredibly well crafted and intelligent so I, of course, had a lot of feelings about the live broadcast.

Let’s start off positively and say that there were a lot of strengths to this production, which were mainly thanks to the cast! Harvey Fierstein, Andrea Martin, Sean Hayes, Martin Short and Rosie O’Donnell all delivered the solid performances I expected of them, having been familiar with their work beforehand!

Despite being familiar with Jennifer Hudson’s body of work, I was blown away by the level of honesty and sincerity in her performance. She well and truly did THAT. Safe to say I feel like this has been the performance that has matched up with her star turn as Effie White. (Special mention goes to her delivery of the line “My children” before the song I Know Where I’ve Been and that strut in You Can’t Stop The Beat – you betta sissy that walk, Jennifer!)

I mean, yes, she was a very slim Motormouth so that didn’t work in the favour of the show, to be honest, but she still was enjoyable!

Another positive surprise was Kristin Chenoweth. Now I’m not surprised she was good. I’m surprised that she made Velma so much her own. Chenoweth’s Velma was less of a devious racist, but more of an ex (tired-ass) showgirl who was only willing to pass on the mantle to her daughter. She was daft, slightly unhinged and entirely obsessed with making herself (and sometimes Amber) look good or impressive. All this was supported by Kristin naturally being a pint-sized Mary Poppins Bag of Tricks™ herself. Although I do wonder if Kristin’s agent will only let her accept a job in which she can flaunt her coloratura vocal range, not that I’m complaining. (Special mention goes to her Hairspraying a Ken Doll.)

Did anyone else know she was a beastly baton twirler!? I did not!

Talking of the Von Tussels, Dove Cameron had me sold from her first line “I’m Amber!”. Her character was clear, well thought out and supported by the text. This was an Amber who lacked her mother’s talent but was still as hungry for the fame and attention. She really impressed me, despite some slight vocal issues – let’s be honest, Amber is not an easy role to sing! (Special mention to her delivery of the line “My Big Break!’  as it cracks me up.)

And I still feel like Cooties is my favourite diss track ever written.

On the opposite side of the tracks, Ephraim Sykes was an absolute delight as Seaweed. Vocally spot on, a smooth charming and sexy dancer who played off of Ariana Grande incredibly well. (Special mention to his phrasing of “The darker the chocolate the richer the taste” in the last chorus of Run and Tell That.)


Penny, girl. I get it. I don’t blame you.

Grande herself was another positive surprise. Playing the ditz is nothing new to her but her dedication and characterization was spot on. Vocally, I feel like she aimed for the shy school girl/blue-eyed soul diva dichotomy, but only the latter really worked out. Sadly the former came across as her sounding like she had a weak instrument. But I still found her thoroughly enjoyable. (Special mention to her at the end of Mama I’m A Big Girl Now, and her reaction to Seaweed’s knife in Without Love.)



I’m not saying I spoke this casting into existence but I’ve wanted Ariana in Hairspray for a LONG time.

Now I’m gonna be mean…
Despite having a strong, pingy, incredibly agile voice, and a strong sense of sincerity, Maddie Baillio seemed to lack something. I feel like she was unaware that she was in a musical with a very quirky and camp sensibility. She lacked that energy and tongue in cheek delivery that is embedded into the DNA of Hairspray – I mean c’mon, a line in the show is “they can keep us from kissing but they can’t keep us from singing” right before a number! I didn’t see a Tracy that could move and inspire people in the way that Turnblad normally does. (Special mention goes to her at the end of It Takes Two – she REALLY liked that song.)


The moments she nailed she really did nail!

Now Link Larkin is not the most interesting character in my opinion and Garrett Clayton gave it a fair shot. He sounded good and is clearly a competent performer! However, his very camp portrayal of the character worked against him. Again, I struggled to believe that this Link was in any way attracted to Tracy. Maybe some more chemistry between the two or a change in blocking for certain numbers could’ve remedied this.

He really did look like a teen heartthrob, though, let’s be real.

The production was very… ambitious. There were a lot of sound issues and mixing mistakes that affected the broadcast.  The main issue was that a lot of energy was lost because this was a recording of a stage production. Watching a recording of a stage production is nothing compared to experiencing it live. And a show like Hairspray thrives off of that energy from the audience. Normally hilarious lines and jokes fell flat because there was no one to bounce off them and feed off of them. And it would be safe to assume that performances suffered because of this, unfortunately.

The choreography was fun in my opinion! I loved the extended dance break in Run and Tell That and I feel that it was a bit West Side Story – esque? And I feel that both the ensembles danced up a STORM.

The cameos from the original Dynamites from the original Broadway production (Shayna Steele, Kamilah Marshall, and Judine Somerville) were a nice touch and of course Ricki Lake (the original ORIGINAL Tracy) and Marissa Jaret Winokur (the original Broadway Tracy) made me grin from ear to ear in their cameo.

Out of 10? I’d give this a solid 6. What I loved I LOVED. What left me cold, didn’t upset or offend,  it just left me..meh.

It was less You Can’t Stop The Beat and more…

We’d Rather You Didn’t Stop The Beat.

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