Broadway Musical Musings – Hairspray Live!: Will It Hold its Curl?
Generally, I am a proponent of the trend in producing musicals “live” on television, with the proviso that they are done well and that they don’t besmirch the reputation of musical theatre. The renaissance of live musicals started a few years ago with The Sound of Music starring Carrie Underwood. It was an underwhelming effort to say the least, but it was popular enough with audiences for NBC to turn live musicals into a perennial event. Peter Pan came next and that was even more painful than The Sound of Music, especially with an under-rehearsed Christopher Walken wending his way through the role of Captain Hook. Then something miraculous happened: Musicals Live! suddenly came up with a great idea and chose a musical that didn’t already have a beloved film version and then cast it with powerhouse talent. The Wiz Live! was a exciting, bursting with energy and heart, and was also just plain good.
This year the producers are bringing us another show that had a lackluster screen adaption: Hairspray. Onstage, Hairspray exploded with spirit, melody, rhythm and humor. It felt like the audience was taken by the hand and led into a feel-good journey of self-acceptance.
Amber Von Tussle
If you've taken the time to watch Cameron's Disney Channel sitcom Liv & Maddie you are aware of both her amazing singing voice and her versatility as an actress. She also sings as a pop music star and played the role of Maleficent’s daughter in the Disney Channel musical The Descendents. On Liv & Maddie she plays twin sisters, each with very distinct personalities, voice patterns and physical interpretations. We know she can act. Granted, Amber Von Tussle has the character depth of a teaspoon, but Dove Cameron is also great at comedic delivery. She will bring spot-on timing and ditzy fun to this character.
Though he is best known for his turns in the Teen Beach movies courtesy of the Disney Channel, Garrett Clayton has a peculiar awkwardness combined with a winning teen heartthrob-style charm that will make him a perfect Link Larkin. His dreamy eyes, coy smile, and smooth tenor will win the day, erasing (most) memories of Zac Efron to win our affections this time around. Oh - and this boy can dance, effortlessly and gracefully. He is most-definitely “The Nicest Kid in Town”.
This is just a little too perfect casting. I mean, it's almost leaning toward stereotype. Who cares? Rosie is hilarious, Rosie loves musicals, and Rosie will make the most out of this meaty cameo.
Ditto - see "Rosie O'Donnell" and switch in "Sean" for "Rosie".
The most talented star of Dancing with the Stars should have made the transition to Broadway musicals a long time ago. He's handsome, charming, and the unparalleled dancer-choreographer of his generarion. What most people don't know is that he's toured in Footloose, appeared in the West End production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and starred in a Radio City Music Hall production. He's also slated to star on Broadway in Singin' in the Rain in the not-so-distant future. We are looking forward to his talents put to the test as Corny Collins, the host of Baltimore's favorite dance show. He’s also just really good looking, so many of us are just sighing at a chance to crush on him again.
The odious Mrs. Pingleton is a small role, but so much fun to play in a campy, religious-zealot sort of way (Yes, this is a sub category). Fortunately, this production will feature Andrea Martin in the role. The two-time Tony Award winner is also a veteran of television sketch comedy, the ideal pedigree for this type of cartoonish kook! She’s proven herself, time and again, on Broadway as Berthe in the recent Pippin revival, as Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!, Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein, and Alice Miller in My Favorite Year.
Velma Von Tussle
Another Tony Award-winner to add to the sparkling cast list, Kristin Chenoweth is great at playing uptight has-beens, as well as comedic villains. As Velma Von Tussle, she'll pack a wallop as the vicious ex-beauty queen, cunningly scheming and baring her diva claws. Hopefully, they won't cut "The Legend of Miss Baltimore Crabs" and give her that deliciously campy dessert to chomp into. She'll make a feast of its delectable double entendre. This You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Wicked and The Apple Tree star never fails to please in this type of role.
We know that Jennifer Hudson can sing and she's comfortable with the musical format (her Oscar for Dreamgirls proves this), but her acting in the recent Broadway revival of The Color Purple left some audiences cold. Fortunately, Maybelle is a sassy, confident, and larger-than-life force of nature, all things that Hudson excels at being. This is a role that will showcase her strengths and that will mask her weaknesses.
The slightly awkward, parentally put-upon, but ultimately progressive and adventurous Penny Pingleton will be played by pop superstar Ariana Grande. Grande exudes a warmth and wonder that will ignite the fire within Penny's heart and soul, sending her on the adventure of romance, giving her the courage to face an ugly world in the less-than-progressive times of the 60s where interracial romance was frowned upon. We know she has the pipes, but we are excited to see her act as well.
Wilbur is all things lovable, fatherly, and just a bit crazy (He owns a joke shop, after all). Where do you turn when you need zany and musically inclined? Martin Short should always top your list! He won a Tony Award for starring in a revival of the musical Little Me, he's a master of wacky comedy, having conquered film, stage and television. He also exudes that perfect aura of warmth, the man who can boundlessly love his wife Edna, singing and dancing his way into her heart.
The best reason for making Hairspray Live! is to capture Harvey Fierstein's vulnerability, comic timing and campy spirit as the zaftig Edna Turnblad. Fierstein originated Edna for the Broadway stage and was overlooked for the role in the film adaptation in lieu of a mediocre John Travolta. This role belongs to Fierstein and every bit of its heart and humor come from Harvey's interpretation. He won a Tony for it and now we will have Edna preserved for posterity.
Obviously, Ms. Baillio is new to the game, having just been secured to play Tracy Turnblad after a nation wide search to cast this spunky heroine. Time will show us her capabilities, but we are sure she will delight and inspire us.
Noticeably missing still from the announced cast list is the character Seaweed, Motormouth Maybelle's son and the love interest of Penny Pingleton. Has anyone heard any rumors? Have they found anyone? I recommend Jordan Fisher who made a charming Doody in Grease Live! last year on ABC.
The gathering of such talent, cast in a fun musical with a bright and positive message, should certainly excite the musical theatre fans in all of us. Hairspray Live! will be sure to keep us excited and counting down to its December airing. Let's hope the producers do the stage musical justice the way that we are hoping for! Put a nice coat of lacquer on this hair DO and preserve its curl for future audiences.