Ryan Calder
2 minute read
2 Oct 2008

This musical triumph brings out the dimples

Ryan Calder

RYAN CALDER reviews Hairspray. SterKinekor, CineCentre.

IT’S difficult not to grin during Hairspray. It’s a musical triumph, complete with ’50s and ’60s doo-wop style songs and high-octane choreography that is unadulterated, rock ‘n roll fun. The fact that Saturday’s matinee and evening shows were sold out says something about its marketability.

Director Adam Shankman spent a decade in choreography and is well equipped for this musical showcase.

The film opens in the colourful town of Baltimore and the upbeat opening number introduces teenager Tracy Turnblad (played larger than life by newcomer Nikky Blonsky). She lives in a modest home with her laundry business mother Edna (played by a heavily-padded John Travolta) and toy shop eccentric father Wilbur (Christopher Walken), and is star-struck with a local Baltimore dance show on TV. She then gets the opportunity to audition along with many others, but is kicked out by the show’s catty producer (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Her dream of becoming famous at this point is obstructed by her plump shape and her reclusive mother, who hasn’t been outside her house in years. Part of the journey for Tracy is educating Edna to the world she has isolated herself from, with a fantastic duet by Bronsky and Travolta.

En route to being discovered, Tracy picks up dance moves from the black teenagers in detention, previously unseen by white teenagers on the show. It is here that the musical takes on its rebelliousness, campaigning for integration of black and white as opposed to having a separate “Negro Day” show (hosted by Queen Latifah, in fine form). The humour in the show is so coyly executed at times that it is sidelined as innocuous. But the racial integration message appears to be purposeful: this 1950s musical was originally written as a John Waters comedy in 1988, which subsequently became a Broadway hit in 2002 (garnering 10 Tony awards). So while it is veiled as being set in the ’60s, it seems the writers want to get a reminder across.

But it is a fully-fledged musical, with only small pieces of dialogue collating the fantastic musical score. Travolta’s character Edna quickly dissipates as the character becomes believable – the overweight Edna has real anxieties and emotions, which Travolta conveys with furrowed brows most of the time. It’s fun seeing the Grease star in this genre again, and his physical performance is great – particularly his moonlight dance sequence and duet with Walken.

But it is ultimately the energetic young cast that makes this film worth watching; Elijah Kelley as Seaweed (who teaches Tracy how to put on some black dance moves) I particularly enjoyed. But Bronsky is the star – she dances well and has a face that illuminates the whole world.

It’s great to have a fun, albeit frivolous entertainment hit the screens. Hairspray is a musical comedy that brings out the dimples in the audience. ****