Hairspray began life in 1988 as the first John Waters film to earn a PG rating, despite such subversive elements as the casting of cross-dressing Waters favorite Divine as Edna, the mother of the main character, tubby teenager Tracy Turnblad. The story was further softened in its conversion to a Broadway musical hit in 2002 with a raft of songs written and performed in the period style of 1962 pop/rock; this time, openly gay actor/playwright Harvey Fierstein donned a dress to play the mother, his gravelly bass voice ...
Hairspray began life in 1988 as the first John Waters film to earn a PG rating, despite such subversive elements as the casting of cross-dressing Waters favorite Divine as Edna, the mother of the main character, tubby teenager Tracy Turnblad. The story was further softened in its conversion to a Broadway musical hit in 2002 with a raft of songs written and performed in the period style of 1962 pop/rock; this time, openly gay actor/playwright Harvey Fierstein donned a dress to play the mother, his gravelly bass voice notwithstanding. It is some measure of the work's ongoing move toward the mainstream that in the 2007 movie musical based on the stage musical that was based on the first movie, John Travolta in a fat suit becomes Edna. It may be inevitable that a big-budget movie requires name stars and that those name stars require changes to beef up the parts they play and make them more sympathetic. The satiric edges of Hairspray have definitely been rounded off by now, but Travolta, although he doesn't make much of an impression in the film beyond his makeup and prosthetics (and, with his speak-singing, even less of one on the soundtrack), isn't really to blame for what director Adam Shankman calls the repurposing of the script and score, even though Travolta and another Hollywood name, Michelle Pfeiffer, have been handed a reprise of the song "Big, Blonde and Beautiful" that their characters did not do on-stage. The real beneficiary of that repurposing seems to have been Zac Efron, who gets a whole new song, "Ladies' Choice," in his role as Link, Tracy's romantic ideal. There is a marketplace justification for this, as attendance of early showings of the film could confirm; a whole part of the audience, entirely consisting of females under five feet tall, thought of the film as the new Zac Efron movie based on his instant stardom with the tween set as the result of High School Musical. Among the other new songs, "The New Girl in Town" was actually written for the show, but cut, and is welcome back. Finally, there is "Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)," an extra number for another star, Queen Latifah. It's worth noting, however, that this song is not actually shoehorned into the film proper; it's merely performed under the lengthy end credits, along with two songs from the stage show that also couldn't fit, the delightful "Cooties" and "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now," the latter rendered as a trio by Nikki Blonsky, the second film's Tracy; Ricki Lake, who appeared in the first film; and Marissa Jaret Winokur, Broadway's Tracy. (Missing entirely is "The Big Dollhouse.") That's a nice touch, even if it means that the score's big finishing number, "You Can't Stop the Beat," now comes three songs from the end; think of the rest as bonus tracks. Whatever one makes of the alterations, it can at least be said that they were instituted by the principals. Composer and co-lyricist Marc Shaiman produced the album, and he clearly took the opportunity of an increased budget to do a bigger version of the score. Broadway cast albums generally have to be recorded in a day due to union rules, but a movie soundtrack can be constructed over time, and the credit list suggests that every session musician in the greater Los Angeles area participated on this recording. As a result, Shaiman really gets the sounds he's after, starting with "Good Morning Baltimore," the Phil Spector copy, which has a genuine Wall of Sound this time, and continuing with the other tunes, each echoing an early-'60s model. Blonsky does not impress as much as Winokur did, but she gets so much support from all concerned that this comes off as Shaiman's best realization of his music yet. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi
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