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Title: Hairspary Live!

Movie: :4stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :4stars:

HTS Overall Score:72

“Hairspray Live!” is the 4th NBC produced teleplay that they’ve released and, in my opinion, the best of the batch. The last one that I reviewed was “Billy Elliot Live!”, and while that was a great production, the sadness of the play keeps me from being into it as much as I wanted. “Hairspray” is one of those bubbly and happy productions that leaves you wanting to tap your toe to the music and just get up and dance (if you have the ability. Myself personally dancing looks more like an ape having seizure, but I digress). Originally a play and a movie by John Waters in 1988, most people will recognize the name from the 2007 remake with John Travolta, Christopher Walken and newcomer Nikki Blonsky. It brought the play out of Broadway and back into the mainstream for a few years, but soon faded from the limelight. Well, while most of us had forgotten about the production, it has been going full bore on stage and NBC decided that it would be the perfect production to use as their latest live telecast. There’s some flaws to the production, but it brings to live the original stage play in a way that surpasses the feature films and is a blast to watch.

The same premise of the Broadway play and 2007 movie is replicated here, with young Tracy Turnblad (Maddie Baillio) wanting to dance on the Baltimore teen TV program “The Corny Collins Show”. The only thing is that she’s a bit of a plus sized girl and the bigoted producer of the show, Velma Van Tussle (Kristin Chenoweth), won’t let her on. However, Tracy gets her chance when Corny Collins himself sees Tracy show off her moves at a local high school dance where he is moonlighting as the MC. There she gains the attention of teen heart throb Linkin Larkin (Garrett Clayton) who is inspired by the girl’s upbeat attitude and genuine love of people. He soon is enveloped in her world changing idea of changing “The Corny Collins Show” a little bit by integrating with other people of differing body builds and colors. Her friend Seaweed (Ephraim Sykes) has taught her some new ethnic influenced dance moves and her desire to bring in more diversity to the show is going to be met with much derision and resistance (the show IS set during the 60s, so racism was still a hot topic).

Tracy’s glass half view of the world is all nice and happy, but reality is seldom a happy place. Although, despite the odds Seaweed, his mother and Tracy’s mother Edna (played by male writer Harvey Fierstein, like John Travolta did in the 2007 movie) push Tracy to follow her dream and make her reality of a more diverse show that accepted people for who they are into EVERYONE’s reality.

Broadway production by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan was adapted to TV by none other than Harvey Fierstein himself (who also plays Edna Turnblad as well) and it turns out to be a spectacular adaptation in most instances. The 2007 movie had a much-shortened musical list due to the inclusion of more dialog intensive scenes that would make the transition from play to film easier, but the teleplay keeps most of the original songs intact. What makes the play really work is the inclusion of such a star studded and incredibly talented cast. Martin Short, Kristin Chenoworth, Award winning Harvey Fierstein (I still can only think of him as the gay co-worker of Jeff Goldblum in “Independence Day”) Jennifer Hudson, Rikki Lake, Sean Hayes and many many more grace the screene and add a distinctive flair to the upbeat and perky show. Their enthusiasm and exciting dance numbers make for a toe tapping good time that is really chicken soup for the soul.

However, there are and were some problems. The original Teleplay was plagued with boom mics getting in the way, audio drop outs, horrible commercials and audio volume fluctuations that really made the TV production a bit cheap feeling. Luckily 90% of those issues have been cleaned up and edited nicely for the home video release which is a BIG boon, but sadly there are still a few audio drop outs and the dialog sometimes get lost in the background as the music swells and rises above the vocals. It’s not horrible, and it’s not in any way unwatchable. The mix is generally fine and the visual production a color filled 1960s dreamlike treat, but those little editing errors make for an ever so slightly diminished enjoyment of the production. Still, that shouldn’t turn you away as the scope and variety of the TV stage play is fantastic. Not only did they use in door sets and sound stages, but this is the second time I have seen them incorporate out door sets and arenas for what would normally be a complete indoor stage production (the first one that I know of is the “Grease Live” production from Fox studios last year).


Rated TV-PG by the MPAA

Video :4stars:
Framed in 1.78:1 (like most TV productions) and presented on DVD with a 480p encode, “Hairspray Live!” looks great with only the knowledge that a 1080p Blu-ray might have sharpened it up just a bit. The colorful production is bright and vivid on stage, with all sorts of blues, oranges, greens and yellows lighting up the show and giving it a very 60s panache vibe. Scene to scene shows great shifts in scenery as well as color saturation and the more explosive and brightly light sequences center around the copious dance numbers. The black levels do show some crush, but are otherwise stable, and the disc itself only suffers from very mild aliasing and some macroblocking due to the 480p nature of DVD. Fine detail is quite impressive and allows for a wonderful viewing experience. All in all, a very nice looking DVD encode despite the show airing in HD on TV.

Audio :4stars:
Being a stage musical, the “Hairspray Live!” enjoys a fairly expansive soundstage with lots and lots of attention paid to the orchestral score. Vocals are usually clean and precise, although I did notice that the acoustics of the stage used and the capturing equipment left a few moments where I was struggling to hear what was being said. However, those moments were fleeting in comparison and the dialog is usually REALLY impressive throughout. The musical score envelopes the listener in an immersive 3-dimensional cocoon of song while the rest of the track is fairly front heavy (as most stage productions are). Bass compliments the music nicely, but being a stage play isn’t used for much else. A nice track, it fits right in with the genre and is one of the better of the 4 NBC live productions that they have released so far.


• Nothing, Nada

Overall: :3.5stars:

The live telecast of “Hairspray Live!” is a unique and mostly true adaptation of the original Broadway play, and leagues better at showing off all the musical numbers than the 2007 remake did. Bright and gaudy, full of life and energy, it captures the happiness and joy that both the stage play and the movie both exuded in spades. Not to mention having some of the catchiest songs in recent history (I know, they’re almost as bad as “Let it Go” was for so many people). Audio and video are more than acceptable for the DVD release but sadly there is zip, zero, nada extras to dig into. Still, it’s fun telecast, and in my opinion, a better watch than the 2007 remake with John Travolta. Good watch..

Additional Information:

Starring: Kristin Chenoweth, Dover Cameron, Ariana Grande
Directed By: Kenny Leon, Alex Rudzinkski
Written By: Harvey Fierstein (Screenplay), Thomas Meehan (Book)
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 MPEG2
Audio: English: Dolby Digital 5.1
Studio: Universal/NBC
Rated: TV-PG
Runtime: 120 Minutes
DVD Release Date: December 20th, 2016

Buy Hairspray Live! on DVD at Amazon

Recommendation: Enjoyable Watch

More about Mike

HTS Moderator , Reviewer
5,742 Posts
Discussion Starter #2
apologies for the video encode score error. a copy paste mishap occurred which has been fixed
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