If there’s any type of movie I’d say that best reflects my idea of Hollywood, it’s the big grand musical. Now I’m fairly aware that saying that sounds very gay, which I’m sure makes my homophobic girlfriend cringe. But hey, I’m not gonna lie. Big grand musicals are the epitome, to me, of what a ‘spectacular performance’ is. There’s great music, terrific melodies, and basically actors interpreting what they feel through feats of song and dance. Any story of great romance, deep despair, hate, fear, or anything for that matter, is made more meaningful and dramatic via moving performances filled with music and dancing.
Thus, I still remember happily the few magical musicals I chanced upon at a young age, such as Oklahoma, South Pacific, the King and I and other Rogers and Hammerstein classics. Then there’s Oliver Twist (which had me saying ‘Please Sir, may I have some more?‘ over and over again), Annie and My Fair Lady. Until today, when I type on a keyboard to test it, I usually write ‘The Rain In Spain stays mainly in the plain‘, rather than the standard ‘The quick red fox…‘.
But (I’m almost apologetic to admit due to their near boilerplate commonness) the ones I particularly remember best are The Sound Of Music, whose 2 songs ‘I Have Confidence‘ and ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain‘ I used to sing to myself (if I could remember the lyrics) whenever I took on a job interview; the less common Fiddler on the Roof, whom I admired for its ability to present a political view whilst providing pure musical enjoyment, and finally, Grease, for taking you to a certain place and time, in this case the late 50’s America, with its terrific songs, performances and costumes that added a hundred more colors to the standard boy meets girl.
And due to the fact it had almost the same location and time of Grease, I approached Hairspray, justifiably or not, with that as my barometer. I love Grease, I loved John Travolta’s oozing, greasy masculinity and Olivia Newton John’s openness and virginal innocence, I loved the song ‘Greased Lightnin” and hated it when they cut that song out from the TV version of the movie, and I have been waiting for a long long time to watch something of anywhere near the calibre of those three. It was therefore with great anticipation that I waited on the promises made by Hairspray.
And my conclusion?
After Hairspray, I’m more convinced now than ever that those movies were truly, wonderfully great in every sense of the word. Not only are they great, they are also unique, and sadly, rare. Rare because if Hairspray were to be this decade’s best attempt at a musical, then we’re to be sadly disappointed forever.
Not that it’s terrible. By no means will I say it is. I think Nikki Blonsky is one of those rare finds that just happen to fit the role to a T. She is the right fit for the role and can sing and dance a storm. There is also Elijah Kelly, as ‘Seaweed’, bringing a terrific performance in what should’ve been a mere supplementary role, and Amanda Bynes, who is beautiful and talented enough to get her own lead roles.
But sadly, that’s it. I know John Travolta was supposed to have been terrific, but I couldn’t shake the idea off my head that that was John Travolta in a fat lady suit, so that performance went to shot. Christopher Walken was stretched more and therefore far more entertaining in Fatboy Slim’s ‘Weapon of Choice’, and Michelle Pfeiffer is and will always be delicious, but her performance singing ‘Making Whoopee’ in The Fabulous Baker Boys remains the gold standard in singing seduction performances, and her work here falls way short of that.
The thing I missed most of all was the absolute drop dead pound you to the ground singing up a tornado performances de rigeur in any great musical. Julie Andrews’s ‘Climb Every Mountain’ can make you want to migrate to Austria, while Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’ can make you want to marry John Travolta right then and there. Heck, even Jodi Benson incredibe singing in “Little Mermaid” makes you want to be ‘Part of your world’. I’m near convinced that this, rather than a lack of good songs or production numbers, was the glaringly missing factor from Hairspray. Other than that you will catch yourself tapping your feet to the upbeat songs and singing along with the quirky and danceable tunes.
But sadly, you’ll not commiserate too well with the Civil Rights theme, nor hate enough the bad girl played by Brittany Snow either. Both her and Queen Latifah‘s performances were way too weak, thin and simply too unaffected for you to care what’s going on with them. Of course, if they were able to sing and dance up a storm like they should, this is a musical mind you, and therefore the proper venue for such, then that situation may have changed. Sadly, they did not, so you’re left with just tapping your feet to the tunes.
So Cabaret it ain’t, albeit its still a rocking good time. Watch Hairspray if you want to see what the modern day’s idea of a musical is, after which, if you really want a good time, go and get Cats to understand what the word musical should really be about.