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HAIRSPRAY (article first published : 2007-10-9)

It’s being touted in some circles as the Grease for the now generation and one can only nod, bop, twist or shimmy-shake in agreement. Hairspray, shake and shower it about, is all big gloss, big body and big bounce. And big fun!

Director and choreographer Adam Shankman’s slick, bright, witty and hyperactively exuberant big-screen version of the award-winning, 60s-set Broadway musical is a constant smile-maker.

Fans of the musical are sure to be enchanted – in spite of some songs having been removed in favour of three newies: The New Girl in Town, Ladies Choice and Come So Far (Got So Far To Go).

Itself inspired by a cult 1988 film by John Waters (who has a brief cameo in the opening sequence, as a flasher in a brown coat), the stage musical won eight Tony Awards in 2003, including those for best musical and score. The focus is on an optimistic, plus-size teen girl, Tracy Turnblad (charming newcomer Nikki Blonsky), whose dream is to dance on The Corny Collins Show.

This is a squeaky-clean television dance show performed by smiling teenagers, hosted by the grinning Collins (James Marsden, in a role far removed from his Cyclops in the X-Men movies) and managed by the chic, bitchy and demonic Velma von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer in Cruella de Vil mode, in a role once tagged for both Madonna and Meryl Streep).

The Corny Collins Show is produced in Tracy’s hometown of Baltimore, where she lives with her dad, Wilbur (Christopher Walken), who owns and mans the Hardy Har Hut novelty gift shop, and her obese, reclusive mom, Edna, who makes ends meet by washing and ironing. Edna is always played on stage by a man and for the film, Shankman has, as everyone knows by now, signed up John Travolta, who spent four hours daily getting into a 1``5kg fat suit. He’s great fun to watch, but, if I’m to be honest, is so identifiable a celebrity that one can’t see past seeing Travolta in drag, rather than the character, which is a pity. And when he sings, one almost expects him to suddenly let rip into Greased Lightning.

But back to the story … Tracy, by a stroke of luck, gets a chance to audition for the show and, by another stroke of luck, makes it on to the programme, where her cool new dance moves get her noticed.

Change is in the air in other areas, too – its 1962, the black rights movement is brewing and The Corny Collins Show – which presents a token weekly Negro Day, hosted by a blonde-wigged Motormouth Mabel (Queen Latifah) – is having to face the fact. Von Tussel, her dancer daughter Amber (Brittany Snow) and many others are horrified by the thought of integration, but not Tracy … whose efforts get the ball rolling faster for change.

The film carries a number of sideplots, including Tracy developing a massive crush on song-and-dance dreamboat Link Larkin (High School Musical star Zac Efron, here with black hair). And while winning friends and influencing people, Tracy also eventually gets Edna to come out of her shell and reignite her love for Wilbur, with whom she dances in a fantasy sequence – complete with rose and Spanish outfit – between the washlines.

The musical pays homage to Waters’s original film by having star Ben Stiller’s father, Jerry, who was Wilbur in the 80s movie, play store owner Mr Pinky. Also watch for Waters’s Tracy Turnblad, Riki Lake, in the finale.

By the way, both the London West End and Johannesburg stage versions of the show are scheduled to open in October.




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