'Hairspray Live!': The Best and Worst Moments From the Live TV Broadcast

Chris Haston/NBC

This marked the network's fourth venture into holiday event live musicals.

Hairspray Live! marked NBC’s fourth venture into holiday event live musicals, but their first go at a broadcast with an audience and studio sets as opposed to a more traditional proscenium-style approach.

Previously, NBC’s live musical events used traditional theatrical staging. Fox’s live broadcast of Grease last winter injected the live musical format with a burst of energy and freshness via inventive blocking that made use of several soundstages and exterior locations on the Fox lot. Replacing Fox’s pomade with hairspray, NBC’s Hairspray Live! marked a high note for the network’s live musicals with its direction and choreography designed specifically for TV, rather than the stage.

Here are the best and worst moments from the night’s broadcast.

BEST

Ode to Divine and John Waters
Hairspray wouldn’t exist without John Waters. Producers included an ode to the “Pope of Trash” in the shop-front facades in the opening number with a “Divine’s Pet Foods” sign featuring a neon pink flamingo. The sign refers to the actor Divine who starred in many of Waters’ films, including Pink Flamingos (1972) and originated the role of Edna Turnblad in 1988’s Hairspray. This little nod was a cute Easter egg for fans.

Kristin Chenoweth’s “Miss Baltimore Crabs”
Chenoweth is veritable Broadway royalty, and she showcased her status as a stage veteran in her take on “Miss Baltimore Crabs.” Velma Von Tussle is the perfect role for Chenoweth, who’s built a career playing (at least on the surface) vapid, scheming, out-of-touch women. This slinky number highlighted all of Chenoweth’s gifts – from her larger-than-life personality to her superb showmanship to her signature soprano (including a few high notes tossed in at the end for good measure). The cherry on top? Chenoweth herself was a former beauty pageant contestant, so her vamping comes with a knowing wink and tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.

“Run and Tell That”
Jerry Mitchell’s high-energy choreography was on optimum display in this number that took to the streets of Baltimore with a West Side Story vibe. As Little Inez, Shahadi Wright Joseph stole the show with her dazzling dance moves.

“I Know Where I’ve Been”
Jennifer Hudson won her Oscar with a single song (“And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going”), and she demonstrated again her ability to bring down the house with a single song here. While erratic camerawork overwhelmed her performance on “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful,” Hudson’s powerhouse voice stole the show on this ballad. It’s the most potent and moving song in the musical, and Hudson’s immense talents gave it the heft and power it deserves.

“Nicest Kids in Town”
One of the night’s greatest delights was Jerry Mitchell’s choreography executed by a stellar ensemble, on slick display in this early number. The meta experience of watching a live TV broadcast portrayed by a live TV broadcast was delightful. Dove Cameron was perfectly cast as Chenoweth’s daughter, and Derek Hough displayed an abundance of charm that was a highlight throughout the show. 

“You Can’t Stop the Beat” Finale
A Broadway musical’s only worth the impact of its finale, and “You Can’t Stop the Beat” vaults over that bar. With its catchy tune, sparkly costumes, character reveals, and the chance to showcase the entire ensemble, it sends the show to the heights of Tracy Turnblad’s bouffant. Bonus points for its message of self-love and body acceptance.

WORST

Live Watch Parties
Perhaps to give cast and crew extra time for scene changes, NBC decided to intersperse commentary from host Darren Criss and live watch parties around the country. As winning as Criss is, nothing is more annoying than coming back from commercial to have more promotional material instead of the show.

Dodgeball Battle
What was originally a choreographed fight on stage is a messy garble on screen — the fight simply doesn’t translate to the small screen. The camera couldn't focus on the varied action, and the wide shot was a chaotic jumble. Without the benefit of distance or the refinement of stunt choreography, Amber’s final blow that knocked Tracy out looked overly stagey and unrealistic.

Link Larkin’s Crisis of Conscience
When Link bows out of supporting Tracy’s initial attempts at integrating The Corny Collins Show, he explains the battle between his conscience and protecting his career prospects. It’s one of his biggest dramatic moments, but Garrett Clayton’s performance didn't pack the necessary emotional punch.

“Ladies Choice” Spring Fling
It featured muddled choreography and hectic camerawork that temporarily took the energy out of the proceedings.

“Without Love”
Lyrically, the inventiveness of this song is one of the great delights of Hairspray. But the number fell short of expectations with frenzied staging and lackluster vocal performances. Garrett Clayton had initial trouble finding his way vocally, and Ariana Grande’s pop vocal talents -- although considerable -- were overshadowed by her co-stars’ Broadway belting.

Billy Eichner Cameo
The Billy On the Street creator is a huge musicals fan (see: his "Wicked Tailgate" sketch), but his comedic talents were wasted here with a brief news announcer role.

This article originally appeared on Billboard.com.

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