Some Thoughts On Hairspray Live

HAIRSPRAY LIVE! -- Season: 2016 -- Pictured: (l-r) back row: Ephraim Skyes as Seaweed J. Stubbs, Jennifer Hudson as Motormouth Maybelle, Martin Short as Wilbur Turnblad, Dove Cameron as Amber Von Tussle; middle row: Ariana Grande as Penny Pingleton, Garrett Clayton as Link Larkin, Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad, Maddie Baillio as Tracy Turnblad, Kristin Chenoweth as Velma Von Tussle, front row: Shahadi Wright Joseph as Little Inez, Derek Hough as Corny Collins — (Photo by: Brian Bowen Smith/NBC)

(Photo by: Brian Bowen Smith/NBC)

The holidays are approaching which means that it was time once again for NBC to trot out their latest installment of their annual live musical. In the year since The Wiz was performed, Fox has entered the musical game with productions of Grease and Rocky Horror Picture Show. While the latter wasn’t live and was pretty much a dud, Fox’s Grease was a game changer in elevating what a live network musical could look like; they brought in a live audience (which had been woefully needed) and were much more ambitious in their staging. Grease Live really set the new high watermark for what this event television should look like. NBC clearly realized that, as they basically copied Fox, right down to the golf carts to whisk the cast between sets. And while Hairspray Live was generally enjoyable, there were a lot of growing pains in NBC’s attempt to keep up with the Jonses. Hairspray Live had some great moments, but was also plagued with technical issues that detracted from the overall performance. It was a step in the right direction for NBC’s execution, but there are still some growing pains to work out.

My first introduction to Hairspray was the original 1988 John Waters movie. I went through a John Waters phase at one point and watched just about everything that he made, with varying levels of enjoyment. While I appreciated his devotion to kitsh and camp, ultimately his aesthetic wasn’t really for me. So it’s not surprising that my favorite Waters film is also his most mainstream – Hairspray. For the uninitiated, Hairspray is set in 1960s Baltimore and focuses on chubby teenager Tracy Turnblad who dreams of being a dancer on the popular The Corny Collins Show and meeting one of its featured dancers Link Larkin. While the show’s queen bee Amber Von Tussle mocks Tracy’s appearance during her audition, Tracy’s dancing skills are enough to land her a spot on the show. Tracy then leads a movement to integrate the show and allow dancers of all races to appear together. At the time, the decision to have Tracy’s mother played by drag queen Divine probably raised some eyebrows, but it set the tradition for subsequent iterations. The movie was turned into a Broadway musical in 2003 and then the Broadways show was remade into a movie in 2007.

Hairspray Live got off to a rocky start from the get go; the audio cut out from Maddie Baillio’s (Tracy Turnblad) microphone during the opening number (“Good Morning Baltimore”), the camera angles were chaotic and the blocking was off, and the lighting was nonexistent. The camera was so far away from Baillio that I wondered if they were trying to cover up the fact that she was lip syncing. Expanding to multiple sets definitely provides movement and energy to a musical, but the opening number was so haphazard that it looked unprofessional and was confusing rather than energizing. They eventually found their footing as the show went on, but some of these issues would pop up for the remainder of the production, especially the lighting. One of the best numbers of the night, “Timeless to Me,” was marred by a director audibly saying “30 seconds” over the duet. They also botched the camera work in the curtain call, cutting away from Kristen Chenoweth – one of the best things about the show – and not giving her the proper recognition. Perhaps because Fox’s execution was relatively flawless right out the gate these missteps were all the more glaring, but NBC really needs to up their game next time out. The technical issues distracted from the overall quality of the show. I get that it’s live TV, but they need to figure out how to pull this off better next time around. They also failed to incorporate the live audience, which made some of the jokes fall pretty flat, and instead borrowed the dumbest part of Grease Live by having Darren Criss host the production. I like Criss just fine, but all of those segments were really dumb and totally interrupted the flow of the show. I’m sorry but I don’t give a flying fig about the live viewing parties around the nation. Stick with the musical and ditch the extra nonsense.

When Hairspray Live was working, however, it really worked. The adults of the cast really stole the show from their younger counterparts and provided the best moments of the production. I am still not fully convinced that Jennifer Hudson can act, but she can sing like nobody’s business. Her turn as Motormouth Maybelle was great and her rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been” was a showstopper; her vocals compensated for some questionable staging. Kristin Chenoweth did what she was born to do and did an excellent job of bringing bigoted Velma Von Tussle to life. Personally I can find Chenoweth a bit much, but when she’s up on stage I can’t get enough of her. Martin Short is also not always one of my favorites – he’s usually at an 11 when I need him at a 7 – but he was perfectly charming and relatively restrained as Tracy’s father Wilbur. As previously mentioned, his duet with Harvey Fierstein (who originated the role of Tracy’s mom Edna on Broadway) was one of the sweetest moments of the entire musical. Andrea Martin, Rosie O’Donnell, Sean Hayes, and Billy Eichner all had smaller roles, but made the most of their screen time; my only complaint is that Eichner could have been given more to do. I’m generally “meh” on Derek Hough (and even less charitable to his sister), but he was perfectly serviceable as dance show host Corny Collins. While clearly he can dance, I wasn’t sure if he could actually sing yet he managed to hold his own.  There were also brief cameos by former Tracys Rikki Lake and Marissa Jaret Winokur (better luck next time, Nikki Blonsky).

The younger stars of Hairspray Live were more of a mixed bag. Maddie Baillio was good as Tracy, though I wish her performance was less earnest and a little tougher. But she was a fine choice and often battled through production issues to keep the show rolling. Ariana Grande was also fine as Tracy’s best friend Penny; she has some decent comedic timing and line delivery, though she occasionally relied on cuteness too often. Ephraim Sykes (Seaweed Stubbs) and Dove Cameron (Amber Von Tussle) were definite standouts in their commitment to their roles. Cameron was pitch perfect as the entitled mean girl Amber and Sykes energized any scene that he was a part of. Garrett Clayton as Link didn’t work for me at all, though unlike Twitter I wasn’t lamenting that he wasn’t Zac Efron (who played the role in the 2007 movie). Though Efron was definitely better, Clayton was the weakest link (ha!) of the production even without any comparison. He had zero chemistry with Tracy, though to be fair, he really had zero chemistry with anyone in the cast. He was just kind of there; his performance lacked any real personality or charisma. If story didn’t dictate otherwise, you would have no idea why all the girls were swooning over him; Tracy would have been better off with Seaweed.

I’ll admit that despite some great performances I did kind of tune out for the final hour of the production. Hairsrpay Live was perfectly fine – and a definite improvement over Rocky Horror Picture Show – but I just lost interest. That’s probably is more my issue than the productions; admittedly I was tired and am coming down with a cold, so my focus wasn’t optimal. I definitely like the message of acceptance that permeates Hairspray, which is sadly a sentiment that we need as much now as we did when the movie debuted. And despite the various technical glitches, I do applaud NBC for trying to take these live musicals to the next level. As someone who loves the theater, these live musicals are a fantastic way to reach a large audience and perhaps introduce musicals to a kid who otherwise wouldn’t have much exposure to them. So A for effort, B for execution. See you next year for Jennifer Lopez in Bye Bye Birdie. God help us all.

The 85th Annual Academy Awards

Whoo-boy. After that Oscar ceremony there certainly is a lot to discuss.

I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t do better with my predictions; I wound up 19/24 for the night, which seemed pretty decent until I did the math and realized that was 79%, or a C+. If I got a B+ in school I was unhappy, so a C+ doesn’t make me happy at all. However, the only category that I can really fault myself for getting wrong was best supporting actor. I wanted to pick Christoph Waltz, but I thought the Academy would be more likely to go with Tommy Lee Jones, so I went with him instead. Ang Lee was never even a consideration in my mind for Best Director; if you had given me 20 Oscar ballots, I don’t know that I would have picked him on any of them. Same goes for the Oscar win for the live action short Curfew. It never even crossed my mind to pick it. And I still think it is bollocks that Les Miserables beat The Hobbit in the hair and make-up category. I mean, look at all the work that went into creating all those creatures in The Hobbit. I’m pretty sure all they did in Les Miserable was rub some dirt on pretty people and shave Anne Hathaway’s head, which actually made their job easier. Whatever.

Now, the big story today is not really the winners and losers of the awards, but how Seth MacFarlane did as a host. While I didn’t think he was very good, I don’t think he was as terrible as most people seem to think. Perhaps that is partially because my bar for Oscar hosts is tremendously low and was lowered further when I heard that MacFarlane got the job. I am a fan of many of MacFarlane’s products – I enjoy The Family Guy and thought Ted was very funny – but I was very skeptical that his brand of humor was going to work well with the Oscar crowd and viewing audience. The Academy Awards are all about Hollywood congratulating themselves and MacFarlane is all about going after sacred cows.  I actually thought that he started out OK – the opening monologue wan’t spectacular, but I did laugh a few times.  Hell – even Tommy Lee Jones laughed, which is a minor miracle. Many people didn’t like MacFarlane’s song about actresses that have gone topless, but I thought that it was worth it simply for this Jennifer Lawrence reaction:


Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.

My main issue with MacFarlane wasn’t the subjects of his jokes, though I thought that they were ill suited for the audience, but the execution. I subscribe to the theory that no subject is necessarily off limits in comedy. However, the more sensitive the topic of the joke, the more well-crafted that the joke needs to be. If you are going to venture into certain comedic waters, you had better have one hell of a joke prepared; it’s a narrow window of what will work and most comedians are unable to stick the landing. MacFarlane is an example of that – he just wasn’t funny, which I think is a much bigger sin than cracking wise about taboo subjects. His jokes were just lazy. Macfarlane’s humor tends to benefit from quantity rather than quality; he usually throws a lot of jokes at you and hopes that enough land that you forget the many that miss. That doesn’t work with a show like the Oscars. Of course, the fault doesn’t reside only with him, but with the entire writing staff for the broadcast. He may be the man that delivered the jokes, but he certainly didn’t write them all. Someone had to OK all that before it went on the air.

I also would have respected MacFarlane more if he committed to the material. If you are going to make the jokes he made last night, you need to own it. Instead, he would try to distance himself various times in the broadcast; the opening bit about him tanking the ceremony was all about lowering expectations and periodically throughout the night he would make comments before or after a joke to try and minimize the damage inflicted.

That being said, MacFarlane was far from the only issue with the Oscar telecast. And I do have to give him credit – he MUST have known it was not going well, but he kept trying. James Franco had already checked out one hour into his co-hosting duties. Standing in front of a room of people when you realize your material is just not working is one of the worst feelings in the world.

The scripted banter of awards shows is always pretty abysmal, but this year I think it was at an all-time low. When the affable Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy can’t sell a bit, you know you are in trouble.  The cast of the Avengers appeared to have absolutely no charisma and doubling down on MacFarlane humor with an appearance by Ted and Mark Wahlberg was too much of a bad thing. It was all very awkward and weird. I’m also convinced that there was a big pile of blow backstage and that most of the people presenting had a bump or two (Renee Zellweger clearly was under the influence of something). For what was supposed to be Hollywood’s most glamorous night, an awful lot of people looked like they had been sleeping under a bridge right before the ceremony. Is brushing your hair no longer chic in LA?

Some other thoughts that I jotted down during the epically long telecast:

  • The more I see of Kristin Chenoweth, the less I like this woman. One too many people have told her that she is cute as a button and she’s clearly drank the Kool-Aid. We get it – you are short. Get a new bit. I don’t normally watch the red carpet show and based on what I saw last night, I won’t watch it again. Dear Lord – this entire exchange with Bradley Cooper made me throw up a little:

And for the record, she took her shoes off during an interview and had absolutely NO trouble getting them back on.  That was all for Bradley’s benefit.

  • Speaking of Mr. Cooper – his mom seems a little nutty, but in a good way. And I give that woman huge props for wearing sneakers AND a pink boa. That is a combination you don’t normally see rocking the red carpet, but I bet she was the most comfortable person there.
  • Even more embarrassing was Jamie Foxx hitting on Kelly Rowland on the Red Carpet – in front of his daughter (who looked pretty horrified by the whole thing).

When did the Red Carpet become the celebrity equivalent of a bar during last call?

  • I don’t know if they thought that “Guess what is in the box” would be riveting television, but I was disappointed when it turned out to be ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. I would have been way more excited if it would have been a head, a la Seven.


  • We all knew that Channing Tatum and Daniel Radcliffe can dance, but Charlize Theron and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were a real surprise.
  • I actually thought the sock puppet re-enactment of Flight was pretty funny (quality of the video isn’t great).

I’d much rather watch that than watch Billy Crystal break out his Sammy Davis, Jr. impression.

  • I’ll admit that I got a little nervous when I was wrong with the first category out of the gate.
  • Loved that the guy who accepted the award for Brave was wearing a kilt, but his co-winner looked like she raided the costume department on the set of Lincoln.
Photo from The Daily Record

Photo from The Daily Record

  • I still think Wreck-It Ralph was better.
  • The cast of The Avengers should have come out in costume.
  • Using the theme from Jaws to play people off was clever, but they really should allot more time for the people who are actually winning a freaking Oscar to talk. There were a million places where the telecast could have been cut to allow the people who are hitting a career pinnacle their moment in the sun.
  • It was especially unfortunate that they played off the winner for best visual effects as he was drawing attention to the  fact the company that did the special effects is going bankrupt.
  • Actual debate that we had during the Oscars – was Alf ever an Oscar presenter? (In case you had any doubt, he was not).
  • Bond is awesome, but the 50th anniversary of the franchise already has gotten a lot of play. I don’t know that this Oscar tribute was necessary. Though Shirley Bassey was amazing in her performance of “Goldfinger. “
  • John Travolta’s pronunciation of Les Miserables was hilarious.
  • I love musicals as much as the next person, but the tribute was ridiculous. If they insisted on doing it, they should have selected some more iconic musicals. I liked Chicago, but it is considered to be one of the worst recent Best Picture winners. Plus Catherine Zeta-Jones was clearly lip syncing.
  • I don’t think Jennifer Hudson deserves an Oscar – she’s a great singer, but a terrible actress – but she blew the roof off the place.
  • There was much discussion at our Oscar Party as to how exactly they pulled off the appearance by Ted. Here’s the explanation.
  • For those who may not have gotten the reference to the post-Oscar orgy at Jack Nicholson’s house, director Roman Polanski notoriously raped a thirteen year old girl at Nicholson’s residence.
  • They really should make those envelopes with the winners easier to open. Far too many people were struggling.
From The Urban Daily

From The Urban Daily

  • WHY are people still asking Kristen Stewart to show up at awards shows? She is literally the worst. She is such a sourpuss and looks like she is there against her will. Twilight is over – let’s move on.
  • I can’t believe that Andy Griffith, Richard Dawson, Phyllis Diller and Larry Hagman didn’t make the Oscar In Memorium segment. And I was disappointed that they resumed the practice of allowing the audio of the audience applauding for the different people who have passed away, once again turning the segment into a bizarre popularity contest.
  • Adele needs to get an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony), pronto. We as a society should demand this. She’s the best, though the sound mixing seemed a bit off during her performance. She was getting drowned out in parts by the orchestra.
  • They should either have all the best songs performed or none of them. They shouldn’t pick and choose.
  • Remember when I said that Renee Zellweger had hit rock bottom when Lifetime passed on her pilot. Last night, we saw the real life personification of that. What a freaking train wreck. There is absolutely no way she was sober and she has clearly had too much Botox.

I don’t know if Richard Gere was calling her out on her behavior with this move, but it was pretty classic:

This led us to speculate that perhaps Zellweger is illiterate, though I’m more inclined to think that was simply a side effect of being high as a kite.

  • I’m kind of glad to discover that other people also do not love Anne Hathaway. I don’t begrudge her the Oscar win, but there is just something about her that irks me. I just can’t put my finger on it.
  • I understand that a lot of the nominated movies have been out for a few months, but the vast majority of people haven’t seen many of them yet. So it would behoove them to choose clips that don’t totally spoil the plots of the movies. Having seen almost all of them, I was shocked how many critical plot points were revealed. Not a good advertising strategy, Academy.
  • I was very happy for Quentin Tarantino. And his speech actually was pretty lucid and focused, which was a bit of a surprise.
  • Ang Lee may be the happiest person in show business. That dude is always smiling. I didn’t love Life of Pi, but he seems like such a nice man.
  • I am relieved that they eliminated the weird practice of having other actors say nice things about the nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress. I always found that very awkward and it wasted a lot of time.
  • Who knew Daniel Day-Lewis was funny?
  • It was really nice to see how happy Bradley Cooper was his co-star Jennifer Lawrence when she won for Best Actress. The poor girl fell on her way to accept the award, but Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper valiantly tried to help her. J-Law is an independent woman though – she picked herself right up and then cracked a joke about it. She’s the best.


  • Jack Nicholson is back! He hasn’t been at the Oscars in years.
  • Michelle Obama making an appearance (via satellite) was a big surprise. I didn’t hear much of what she said, because the person next to me was ranting how ridiculous it was that she was part of the ceremony since she has nothing to do with movies. This was the same person who argued Alf should be a presenter.
  • I wish that the First Lady had announced Argo had won by saying “Argo f*ck youself” or by doing the Dougie, like she did this week on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:


  • I am an admitted Ben Affleck fan and Argo was my favorite movie of the year, so I may be biased, but I thought his was the best speech of the evening:


  • The song for the losers by Chenoweth and MacFarlane was not the best note on which to end the ceremony. It just seemed kind of mean spirited.
  • The Onion learned the lesson of what happens when an ill-conceived joke lands on Twitter (NSFW and uses a word that most people find abhorrent, so click at your own risk). I get what they were going for, but it was incredibly poorly done and offended many people. I just hope it didn’t ruin little Quvenzhane Wallis’ night; she was adorable (and was just cast in the new film adaption of Annie). UPDATE: The Onion issued an apology Monday morning.


All in all, this Oscar ceremony was a mess essentially from the word go. A lot of the blame will fall to MacFarlane, and rightfully so, but can’t shoulder it all. I strongly recommend that the Academy pick a host that is enthusiastic and happy to be there. Back up the Brinks truck to get Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to reprise the excellent job that they did with the Golden Globes. Or, and of course I am totally biased, I’d like to humbly suggest Jimmy Fallon for consideration. He can sing and play an instrument and already has the Michelle Obama seal of approval. And I’m pretty sure he would go out of his way to not offend anyone; he’d just be happy to be there. Whatever the Academy decides, it is clear that the entire show needs to be revamped and reconsidered. It’s a shame that a year that had such a strong slate of movies was honored with this poorly constructed and written award ceremony.

If you missed the telecast or simply want to relieve its insanity, the entire ceremony is streaming on A complete list of the winners can be found here.