Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Beat Goes On: Yes, They Got Hairspray Right! (Spoiler-Free)

They got it right. They got it right! Thank God, they got it right!

Seriously, the producers of the Hairspray movie need to write a book on how to adapt Broadway shows for film. I’d write it myself, but I lack the experience. But they know their stuff and prove it in about every second of the Hairspray movie.

First of all, John Travolta is a revelation in this movie. Okay, maybe he was a revelation back in the ‘70s, but I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything since Grease, so he was a revelation to me. I don’t want to go into too many details (because I promised “Spoiler-Free”), but mid-way through “(You’re) Timeless to Me,” I realized that he’s topped Danny Zuko. He was wary about doing another film musical because he didn’t want to compete with Danny Zuko. No need. He’s done better. He’s that good in the role.

Best of all, to me, the film does what The Sound of Music film did, which was to take several great songs and give them a better placement than where they were in the original stage version. The result is a meatier second act, which leads more strongly to the climax.

Also executed perfectly was the adaptation of several songs for the film. For example, “I Can Hear the Bells” is done completely different from the film but is just as much fun. There’s also much cleverness in the adaptation of “Welcome to the 60’s” and “Without Love.” There’s been some talk that “Miss Baltimore Crabs” was replaced, but it’s still there, though now there’s an unbeatable callback later on.

I always said that Hairspray would be the perfect musical for kids. It has a lot to say, and not only does it say it well, it’s incredibly inspiring. To me, the problem with the stage version was the sprinkling of a few things that just weren’t needed (i.e. kids having sex on the playground; the African-American boy being the one who wants to de-flower the pure, innocent white girl; the gym teacher wanting to shower with her students . . . that last one was always an “ewwww” to me), but they are pretty much gone in this version. It has one or two light entendres for the PG-rating, but it’s really a great film for all ages. And I will say that I left the theater inspired and wanting to act on doing something for my personal cause, the Not for Sale campaign against human-trafficking.

I would also like to add that not only is the movie inspiring, it’s also very touching. I would go as far as to say that it moved me, like the stage version did, in the strength of Wilbur and Edna’s bond as well as in Tracy’s courage.

As far as I’m concerned, the only complaints anyone could have are in the typical film adaptation complaint department. First of all, the voices generally aren’t as strong as their stage counterparts (and I am still very satisfied with only my Broadway OBC recording) and quite simply, it’s not a stage show, which is always more energetic and, as a result, funnier. However, considering that stage musicals on film can never fully capture the original’s energy or comedic timing, I am more than pleased with the film. Like I said, I loved it!

I also have a feeling the film will give the stage version longer legs. I walked out of the movie last night wishing I could rush off and see an Equity production of the Broadway show so badly. I can’t believe I’ll the only one.

At the end of the movie (and do stay until the end for some great songs cut from the Broadway show), I remembered some of the criticisms I’ve read about the show from Ethan Mordden and Michael John LaChiusa. Watching the movie reminded me of what a blast Hairspray is on stage, and I defy anyone to criticize the joy this musical gives you or how it moves you.

This summer, I’ve seen many of the big movies—Spider-Man 3 (twice), Pirates of the Caribbean: More Confusing Than Dostoyevsky (once is enough), Transformers (good but not great), and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (better than the original). Okay, so I need to see Ratatouille still, but I will say this: Of all the movies I have seen this summer, Hairspray is been hands-down the best.

So, on opening weekend, go see Hairspray! When Hollywood gets a musical right, the suits need to know there’s an audience for them. Opening weekends are crucial to send a message to the analysts. Take your kids, take your nieces and nephews, take your friends. I know I can’t wait to see it again myself.

Broadway Mouth
July 10, 2007

Please Note: Okay, I've never read a novel by Dostoyevsky. I'm just going off rumors.

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