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Hairspray by Marc Shaiman

Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, has only one passion - dancing. Her dream is to appear on The Corny Collins Show, Baltimore's most popular teen dance party in 1962, sponsored by a hairspray company. Her plus-size figure has always set her apart, of which she is reminded by her loving but overly protective and oversized mother, Edna (John Travolta). After wowing Corny Collins (James Marsden) at her high school dance, Tracy wins a spot on his show and becomes an instant on-air sensation, much to the chagrin of the show's reigning princess, Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow), and her scheming mother, Velma (Michelle Pfeiffer), who runs television station WYZT. Worse still, Amber's sweetheart, Link Larkin (Zac Efron), seems to be smitten with Tracy as well. So all is set for the fight for the coveted Miss Teenage Hairspray crown.

Review by Louise Keller:
'You gotta think big to be big,' Christopher Walken's Wilbur Turnblad tells his daughter Tracy, when she confides her dream to dance on The Corny Collins TV show. Thinking big is exactly what this extravaganza of a musical does to perfection, as it brings the Broadway musical hit to the screen with aerosol cans filled with energy, joy and star power. With its central theme of acceptance, the film takes us on a wildly uplifting, colourful and frivolous journey, grounded by intersecting cross-streets of love, racial discrimination and doing the right thing.

Whoever would have thought John Travolta wearing an EEE cup fat suit could bring such a heartfelt, yet hilarious performance as Tracy's stay-at-home mother Edna, who spends her life negotiating pleats, ironing for a living. The pairing of Travolta's Edna with Walken's wonderfully wacky (but sincere) Wilbur is one made in Hollywood heaven, and their musical number 'You're Timeless To Me' (sung alongside oversize underpants hung on the washing line) is one of the film's highlights. As impossible as it may seem, there is genuine chemistry between the two, and lines like 'You're like a stinky old cheese, you get better with age,' and 'My heart only beats for a size 60' are a mix of hilarity and tenderness.

It gives me great pleasure to report there are too many highlights to mention, but the ever-beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer is divine as vile Velma, the ambitious TV station manager who stops at nothing to vilify everyone who doesn't fit her mould. Wearing a different, dazzling, body-hugging glamour gown in every scene, I couldn't stop smiling when she ventures into Wilbur's Hardy Har Hut joke shop wearing a red dress that spells seduction (he offers her a box of Belgian chocolate animal droppings!), and watch out when Walken is relegated to sleeping on a bed of whoopee cushions. Queen Latifah is great as Motormouth Maybelle and making an outstanding debut in the central role of effervescent, lovable and chubby Tracy, is eighteen year old Nikki Blonsky, who sings and dances like a dream ('When I start to dance, I'm a movie star'). All the supporting cast is tops (special mention to Zac Efron as Link and Elijah Kelley as Seaweed), as is the crowd-pleasing choreography and routines. We are taken back in time to the swinging 60s (great production design), the home of eyeliner, pale lipstick and beehive hair.

The inimitable John Waters (who wrote, directed and produced the 1988 original film Hairspray) appears in a cameo, as does Ricki Lake (the original Tracy) and Jerry Stiller (the original Wilbur). The great Marc Shaiman who wrote and orchestrated the music appears as a talent agent alongside his lyricist collaborator Scott Wittman. Hairspray is a joyous breath of fresh air that will stiffen your resolve to have an outrageously fun time.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
That it's remarkably upbeat is a given since Hairspray is an American musical, but what you may not expect (unless you are familiar with the 1988 John Waters original) is the solidly dramatic grounding on which the musical comedy is based. Poor self image, obesity, exclusion, racial inequality and naked ambition are some of the ingredients of the story, yet Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman turn the negatives into positives - not by making these issues superficial but by embracing them as the very stuff of the show.

Beautifully structured and cleverly directed by Adam Shankman (his best work to date), Hairspray pushes all the right buttons from start to finish. We're in Baltimore in 1962, a place of rigid conformity, black and white TV, black and white community (separate), all of it about to change, much of the change driven by rock n' roll. And teenager Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is one of the instruments of the changes that reverberate through American society.

Blonsky, in her professional debut, is a sensation, from her rounded shape to her beautifully rounded voice and her rounded, sweet but intent face. She belts with effortless sweetness and croons with touching intensity. John Travolta is endearing as Tracy's size 60 mum, all sweetness and coy until her big finale, and Christopher Walken is her crackling, wise cracking dad. Queen Latifah and Michelle Pfeiffer are splendid as opposing forces in the community, and Amanda Bynes makes an impact as Tracy's good friend Penny, as does Zac Efron as Link, the tv show's handsome young star. The black youngsters shine just as brightly, with Elijah Kelley as Seaweed and Taylor Parks as standout singer/dancers.

Laugh out loud funny, touching and dramatic in turns, Hairspray is totally satisfying as musical comedy and also has something to say: you don't have to be the same as everyone else to be a valuable human being. John Waters should know.

Andrew L. Urban
Urban Cinefile on


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