Strange Brouhaha

Saturday, August 11, 2007


The Child's dance company went to see "Hairspray" after class this week, and The Missus and I decided to tag along. To be more specific, I was told that I was tagging along, which is fine with me--I like musicals.

Pretty much all I knew about it going in was...

  • Zac Efron was in it. Zac is very important to girls.

  • The musical was based on John Waters' 1988 movie. This is nervous-making for parents. John Waters is NOT for children, the current film's PG rating notwithstanding.

  • John Travolta was in the suit as Edna.

  • Marissa Jaret Winokur kicked ass on Broadway and won a Tony, and the cast's performance at the Tonys that year was incredible.

    That's Harvey Fierstein as Edna. You can't miss his voice. I love Harvey.

The movie was very good overall. I had a few problems with it--the pacing was weird, the sound in the theater was terrible, John Travolta proved to be a distraction every single time he was onscreen (a distraction of the "Oh my God, he's terrible" variety), Michell Pfeiffer looked as if she had been killed by a vampire, and the sound in the theater was terrible.

Did I mention that the sound in the theater was terrible? TERRIBLE. I don't know if it was a function of where we sat or what, but I get better sound out of my television set. I need to see it again in a proper theater to get a better sense of the music, because as it stands right now, I have to say that the music had very little in the way of dynamic range, especially from Queen Latifah, and there were a few numbers that definitely should have had a crescendo or two. Still, the opening number, the closing number, and the number after the protest march were well worth the price of admission, even with the sound problems. (Speaking of the opening number, John Waters' cameo is perfect.)

I liked the acting, though, especially from Nikki Blonsky, Amanda Bynes (who is a solid comedic performer) and Christopher Walken. Walken was amazing; he turned in a great performance during his number with Travolta, actually making Travolta look good for a few minutes.

When they adapted Waters' original movie for the musical stage, they apparently toned it down (I haven't seen the entire original). That's a good thing. There were a few places here and there that probably weren't entirely acceptable for an eight-year-old, but I don't feel like we're bad parents for letting her see it. Given the story, there is a little bit of racial content, but since The Youngster has been studying Dr. King, it's something that we can talk to her about.

I recommend this movie, despite the strongly overwhelming presence of Travolta. The role is supposed to overwhelm, I suppose, but you're also (as I understand it) not supposed to spend the whole time thinking "That's a man!" or "That's John Travolta!" You're supposed to just say "That's Edna." I think Travolta is a big, fat failure in this movie, you should pardon the pun.

But if he's that bad, why would I recommend the movie? Easy: it made me smile, which is a rare and precious commodity. I have a big grin on my face just thinking about it. And besides, here's what happened after the movie:

"You know," I said as we walked to the car, "I guess that was okay, but it really just made me want to see the original movie, and the stage production, and buy the two soundtracks and listen to them."

"Can we buy this on DVD?" The Child asked.

"Maybe," I allowed.

The Wife looked at me. "I think," she said, "that the producers of this movie would say that they've done their job if they heard you. You're going to go out and buy two CDs, two DVDs, and see a show. And for a movie that was 'just okay.'"

"Huh," I said. "I guess that means I liked it."

And I did.


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