Sunday , February 25 2024
Thoughts on Hairspray's big Tony sweep. . .

“Can’t You See, I’m Sprayin’ My Hair!”

Didn’t watch the broadcast, but I read this a.m. that Hairspray won big (eight Tonys) at last night’s Tony Awards. I’ve got major mixed emotions about this. I’ve loved the John Waters movie on which the Broadway show is based for years, but part of what makes that flick for me is its soundtrack of obscure early sixties dance singles (“Madison Time,” “The Bug,” “Shake Your Tail Feather”): rhythm-and-blues pop so simultaneously dumb and transcendent that the thought of mishmashing it with musical theatre pastiche makes me cringe. (I know that the movie itself opens with a phony girl group song performed by Rachel Sweet, but it’s the only instance of inauthentic tunery in the picture – and, besides, I like Rachel Sweet, so please allow me my inconsistency.) Haven’t seen the theatrical production, but looking at pics of the original cast, Marissa Jaret Winokur certainly has the outer Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake’s finest 90 minutes!) down.
I’ve never read anything to suggest this, but I’ve long suspected the one of the original inspirations for the movie Hairspray was a Rocky Horror joke. Early in that play/pic, square-jawed hero Brad proudly states that he can do a mean “Madison,” and the line is delivered to elicit snorts of derision for Brad’s cluelessness. Yet one of the big showpiece dance numbers in John Waters’ flick is a performance of that same dance on “The Corny Collins Show;” it’s fat heroine Tracy’s familiarity with that convoluted dance step which leads to her local teevee stardom. Only a satiric contrarian like Waters would take a track that represented squareness to the Midnight Movie crowd and make it the epitome of Teen Coolness. . .
Like I say, I love the movie Hairspray – both as an evocation of a pop period that’s frequently overlooked and as a pic that’s deftly size positive without belaboring the point. So even if I’m less enthralled by the thought of it being Broadway-ified, I ultimately am heartened by its big Tony sweep. (Don’t quite see Harvey Fierstein as Divine, but perhaps that’s just me.) If nothing else, it should encourage folks to rediscover Waters’ delightful original sourceflick.

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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