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WGUC Reviews

Hairspray

Hairspray
New Line Cinema
Rated PG
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas


In the never-ending search for movie hits, the latest trend in recycling is new film versions of Broadway musicals that were stage versions of non-musical films. It all began slowly several years ago with Little Shop of Horrors. First, it was a low-budget Roger Corman B-film. Then came the off-Broadway musical version. And finally, Frank Oz directed the film version of the off-Broadway musical. The good news is…they all were terrific pieces of entertainment in their own right, and had more than enough "good stuff" to make them all worth seeing.

The most notable success story in the screen-to-stage-to-screen juggernaut is obviously Mel Brooks' The Producers. From a groundbreaking low-budget comedy film starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, to a gigantic Broadway musical hit that won numerous Tony awards, to a wonderful movie of the play, it hit a home run out of the movie recycling ballpark. So much so that Brooks and company will try to strike gold again with a Broadway musical version of Young Frankenstein this fall.

Currently, the latest film to enjoy winning the showbiz trifecta is Hairspray. The original film, written and directed by John Waters in 1988, was quite a change of pace from the maverick Baltimore filmmaker who shocked the world with Pink Flamingos. Hairspray was a PG-rated tale set in 1962 Baltimore about an optimistic teenager named Tracy Turnblad and how she almost single-handedly integrated a TV dance party program that is more than reminiscent of "American Bandstand." The film was fun, and actually having a serious message, featured such semi-luminaries as Jerry Stiller, Sonny Bono, Pia Zadora and Deborah Harry, and starred Waters' favorite actor, Divine, as Tracy's mother. Hairspray introduced Ricki Lake as Tracy, and while her later career hasn't quite lived up to that debut, she's been working steadily ever since.

In 2002, as reimagined for Broadway, Hairspray racked up eight Tony awards, including Best Musical. It was just a matter of time before Hollywood came calling.

The film version of the musical is a real gem. It maintains the essence and sincerity of John Waters's original film, while integrating a boatload of catchy tunes by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman with the imaginative direction and choreography of Adam Shankman. In keeping with the tradition of having Edna Turnblad played by a man in drag…Harvey Fierstein won a Tony for the Broadway version…the role is played here by John Travolta, who is quite good as Edna, and yes, after all these years, he can still dance.

The supporting cast is A-list all the way: the great Christopher Walken as Wilbur Turnblad; a snarling Michelle Pfeiffer as the villain of the piece; Queen Latifah as Motormouth Maybelle; and a really charming Amanda Bynes as Tracy's best friend Penny Pingleton. And, as in the original film and the Broadway makeover, a newcomer steals the show. Nikki Blonsky was plucked from behind the counter of an ice cream store in New York to be given her big break as Tracy. She has a terrific voice and commanding screen presence, which should ensure her a successful showbiz career for quite some time.

Hairspray is full of nice people, hearty laughs, and terrific songs and dancing. It never seems to lag, and is the kind of film that will have a silly grin plastered on your face from first frame to last, while at the same time tapping your toes like crazy.


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