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Hairspray Live! is a television special that aired live on NBC on December 7, 2016. Produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, and hosted by Darren Criss, it is a performance of a new adaptation of the 2002 Broadway musical Hairspray.

Cast

  • Maddie Baillio as Tracy Turnblad
  • Dove Cameron as Amber Von Tussle
  • Ariana Grande as Penny Pingleton
  • Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad
  • Kristin Chenoweth as Velma Von Tussle
  • Jennifer Hudson as Motormouth Maybelle
  • Garrett Clayton as Link Larkin
  • Ephraim Sykes as Seaweed J. Stubbs
  • Derek Hough as Corny Collins
  • Martin Short as Wilbur Turnblad
  • Shahadi Wright Joseph as Little Inez
  • Paul Vogt as Harriman F. Spritzer
  • Andrea Martin as Prudence "Prudy" Pingleton
  • Billy Eichner as Rob Barker
  • Sean Hayes as Mr. Pinky
  • Rosie O'Donnell as Health Ed Teacher
  • Riley Costello as Brad
  • Marissa Heart as Tammy
  • Mason Trueblood as Fender
  • Jacque Lewarne as Brenda
  • Ricky Schroeder as Sketch
  • Helene Britany as Shelley
  • Sam Faulkner as I.Q.
  • Kelli Ann Erdmann as Lou Ann
  • Katherine Roarty as Kooks
  • Heather Tepe as Belle
  • Tommy Martinez as Corey
  • Karl Skyler Urban as Jon
  • Joshua Alexander as James
  • Will B. Bell as Duane
  • Joanna Jones as Genie Mae
  • Tiana Okoye as Lorraine
  • Amos Oliver III as Thad
  • Re'sean Pates as Jackie
  • Rhon Saunders as Gilbert
  • Ricki Lake (Tracy Turnblad in the original 1988 film) and Marissa Jaret Winokur (original Tracy Turnblad on Broadway) as Mr. Pinky's Girls
  • Kamilah Marshall
  • Judine Somerville
  • Shayna Steele

Production

Hairspray Live! served as NBC's fourth entry in its series of made-for-TV musical telecasts, behind The Wiz Live!, Peter Pan Live!, and The Sound of Music Live!. As with its predecessors, it was executive produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. The project was revealed by NBC's entertainment head Bob Greenblatt during a Television Critics Association press tour in January 2016. In response to early reports that NBC was considering a live version of The Music Man, Greenblatt stated that "people have been saying to me since The Wiz, 'Do this show, do that show.' I've heard obscure titles and famous titles. Not everything's going to be a big name to the whole audience. I don’t think there's an infinite number of these that can be done. But we're still doing it." He explained that the production would not try to emulate the 2007 film (also produced by Zadan and Meron), but that he would have been thrilled if John Travolta reprised his role in it.

Kenny Leon returned in his role as director from The Wiz, and was joined by Alex Rudzinski—who co-directed Grease: Live for Fox. The musical was adapted for television by Harvey Fierstein from the original book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan. Jerry Mitchell, the choreographer of the Broadway version of Hairspray, was also involved with the adaptation. In contrast to NBC's previous musicals, Hairspray Live! was produced from the Universal Studios backlot; Greenblatt explained that a "fair amount" of the show would be staged in outdoor settings, and thus "have a real exuberance in the open air." Additionally, live audiences were integrated into relevant scenes as extras on-stage, such as bystanders in Baltimore, and as the studio audience of The Corny Collins Show. Two numbers written for the 2007 film, "Ladies' Choice” and "Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)", were incorporated into the production. "The Big Dollhouse", from the Broadway show, was cut, while "The New Girl In Town", written for the stage show but cut and only used in the film, was not added. (An instrumental version of the song is, however, heard very briefly as a bit of background music.)

In addition to adapting the book, Fierstein reprised his performance of Edna Turnblad from the Broadway musical; Greenblatt felt that his performance of Edna was "iconic", and that his involvement with Hairspray Live! made it "come full circle". NBC cast the lead role of Tracy Turnblad through an open call in New York City, hoping to repeat the "phenomenal discovery" of Shanice Williams for The Wiz. The role went to college sophomore Maddie Baillio, as her first professional role. In November 2016, it was announced that Ricki Lake and Marissa Jaret Winokur (who portrayed Tracy Turnblad in the 1988 film and the Broadway version respectively) would make cameo appearances; Winokur and Lake appeared as employees of Mr. Pinky's boutique. Darren Criss served as an on-air host, hosting a half-hour Countdown to Hairspray Live! show on NBC with Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hayes, as well as behind-the-scenes reports throughout the live broadcast.

Oreo, Reddi-wip, and Toyota broadcast live, themed commercials during Hairspray Live!; Oreo's ad featured the character of Corny Collins, Reddi-wip's ad featured a milkman character (Evan Strand) backstage and performing a dance number, while Toyota's ad featured a vintage Toyota Corolla and a current model in celebration of the vehicle's 50th anniversary.

Musical numbers

The musical numbers from the track list of the soundtrack.

Act I

  1. "Good Morning Baltimore" – Tracy
  2. "The Nicest Kids in Town" – Corny and Council Members
  3. "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now" – Edna, Tracy, Prudy, Penny, Velma, and Amber
  4. "I Can Hear the Bells" – Tracy
  5. "(The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs" – Velma and Council Members
  6. "Ladies' Choice" - Corny
  7. "It Takes Two" – Link and Tracy
  8. "Velma's Revenge" - Velma
  9. "Welcome to the 60's" – Tracy, Edna, The Dynamites, and Mr. Pinky
  10. "Run and Tell That!" – Seaweed and Little Inez
  11. "Big, Blonde and Beautiful" – Motormouth

Act II

  1. "(You're) Timeless to Me" – Edna and Wilbur
  2. "Good Morning Baltimore (Reprise)" – Tracy
  3. "Without Love" – Tracy, Link, Penny, Seaweed, and Ensemble
  4. "I Know Where I've Been" – Motormouth
  5. "(It's) Hairspray" – Corny and Council Members
  6. "Cooties" – Amber and Council Members
  7. "You Can't Stop the Beat" – Tracy, Link, Penny, Seaweed, Edna, Wilbur, Motormouth, Velma, Amber, and Company

Encore

  1. "Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)" – Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson

Reception

Hairspray Live! received mostly positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the special holds an 79% rating based on 24 reviews, with an average of 8.2/10. The site's consensus states: "Hairspray Live! shimmers with outstanding performances, an engaging story, and songs that let its stars shine." It has a score of 66 from 14 critics on Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews".

The New York Times reviewer wrote: "NBC lassoed some talented performers with fine singing voices but sacrificed cohesion by cramming the evening with too much interstitial fluff.... Only Jennifer Hudson, who played Motormouth Maybelle, found the real strength of this Tony-winning musical, delivering a knockout rendition of 'I Know Where I've Been'..." He noted that Baillio "did pretty well, though no novice is going to compete with voices like those of Ms. Hudson and Kristin Chenoweth..."

The Variety reviewer wrote that it "took a few musical numbers to settle into a rhythm. But once it did (the energy seemed to kick in with "Welcome to the ‘60s") the musical easily became the best NBC has attempted. It's hard to imagine better casting for the production. Jennifer Hudson stole the show... Ariana Grande, certifiable pop star, came away as the show's MVP, acting as both reliably overlook-able sidekick and, once the situation required it, showstopping diva. Harvey Fierstein was predictably great... Martin Short... found the right profile for himself as Wilbur."

The TV Ratings Guide reviewer wrote that the production "was truly a great experience through and through." They praised the entire cast, stating "the casting was just top notch", and praised Grande and Hudson in particular. They named 'You Can't Stop the Beat' the best musical moment of the night and stated that "they really knocked it out of the park." They stated that "NBC really put together something amazing here."

The A.V. Club's reviewer wrote that "As a piece of social commentary, tonight’s production of Hairspray Live! was just about flawless." They stated that Dove Cameron and Ephraim Sykes were "consistently fun to watch", and that Chenoweth and Hudson "were the biggest scene-stealers." They said that Fierstein, Short, and Martin "were all wonderful as well." They rated the telecast a B+.

Hairspray Live! was seen by 9.05 million viewers, with a ratings share of 2.3 in the 18–49 demographic, and a 5.9 overnight household rating. It was the most-viewed program of the night, with numbers on par with those of Peter Pan. An encore presentation, which aired on December 27, was seen by 2.5 million viewers.

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Films: Hairspray | 2007 remake | Live!
Soundtracks: Hairspray (1988 soundtrack) | 2007 soundtrack
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