Hairspray: The Review

As a break from our activity-packed trip in Canada, we took a few hours to go to the movies. Here’s a review of the movie based on the musical performed by the Cantabile choirs last spring.

Hairspray is a musical about people who are different, centered on the somewhat stout character of Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky). Tracy is a young fan of The Corny Collins Show, a dance show with “Nice white kids who like to lead the way. And once a month, we have our Negro Day!” (Yeah, the line shocked me a bit at its casual delivery.) When one of the girls on the show retires for “nine months” *cough cough*, Tracy takes the opportunity to try out (skipping school in the process). The resulting detention gives her the opportunity to meet Seaweed (Elijah Kelley), a leader of the black dancers on the show. Her dance moves and her willingness to make friends with him and the other African-Americans leads to her becoming more a part of that group than the white chorus on the show. Tracy learns that life is not as good for everyone as she previously thought, and the more serious overtones of the show come into play.

No ending spoilers, on to review. Hairspray has about as much serious content as a slightly-above-average musical, perhaps about as much as Les Misérables. (Although since this is only set 45 years ago it’s a bit more relavent.) It’s more of a “musical” than the movie version of Rent, meaning that sometimes the characters just sort of burst into song in public, unrealistically, and some realism corners are cut for the sake of the story and songs. Despite the antiracism undertones, this is not a “serious” movie. It’s not a “great” movie either. But it is a “fun” movie, especially for singers or dancers. (The dancing isn’t stupid, either, not like the opening of West Side Story. Ugh.)

As for the soundtrack, the songs are generally upbeat and active, and somewhat pop-ish. I happen to like “Welcome to the 60’s”, “Run and Tell That”, “Without Love” (I can hardly forgive myself for this, it’s really cheesy), and of course “You Can’t Stop the Beat”. My mom, on the other hand, prefers the soft and serious “I Know Where I’ve Been”. (Side note: she also says the Cantabile soloist who did this song was better and had more feeling than Queen Latifah.) The “soundtrack itch” hit me right after the show (ending with “You Can’t Stop the Beat” tends to do that), but it’ll fade if you wait a few days and don’t reinforce it. I broke down and got the soundtrack from iTunes anyway. Oh, BTW, Nikki Blonsky’s Tracy has a much less annoying voice than the original Broadway Tracy (Marissa Jaret Winokur). That alone saved “Good Morning Baltimore”.

So, if you like upbeat singing or dancing, want to see a fun story that still deals with a real topic (if slightly idyllically), or, you know, have nothing else to see, go ahead and watch Hairspray. It’s not amazing, or life-changing, but it’s definitely fun. (Although, if you’ve seen the play version, chances are you’ll be disappointed. I haven’t seen it, but already I can see Mimi taking Sarah F.’s role with Rent.)

As a postscript, I’d like to mention that even during the movie I thought of Cantabile’s performance (especially during “Welcome to the 60’s” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat”). Despite some mediocre performances (sorry, girls), there were some that went really well, especially most of the soloists. I’d particularly single out Samantha D., who I don’t even know but who has a really good singing voice, and of course Karin N., who I know from Guys & Dolls and who did a great solo on “You Can’t Stop the Beat”.

And yes, this is the movie where John Travolta plays an, um, large woman, the mother of Tracy. Advertisers and audience alike, get over it! This movie’s about Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), her friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes, from She’s the Man), pop star Link Larkin (Zac Efron, from High School Musical), and dance king (and super-tenor) Seaweed J. Stubbs (Elijah Kelley).