You Can’t Stop The Beat

Today, while at Universal Citywalk, we ducked out of the heat and went to the AMC Universal 19 to see Hairspray: The Movie. Now, this is a show we’re familiar with: we’ve seen the original 1988 John Water’s version many times, and love the musical, which we saw back in August 2004.

This production was equally wonderful.. different in its own way, but wonderful. Wonderful show, wonderful music, wonderful message. I can’t help but make a few observations.

First, the cinematography impressed me. I’m of the firm belief that one of the reasons that The Producers and Rent tanked on screen was that they were faithful adaptations of the stage versions. On the other hand, Chicago and Dreamgirls were successful because they used the screen to the advantage: the cinematography enhanced the story.

This was certainly true of Hairspray: they eliminated some songs, added some new ones, and changed the plot a bit, but all in the name of making a better movie. They didn’t detract: they enhanced the story. I think this was good, and it serves the movie well.

The performances were excellent. The talented newcomer Nicki Blonsky, in her first screen role ever, was remarkable. She followed in the tradition of Rikki Lake and Marissa Jaret Winokur in bringing the character’s youthful enthusiasm and spirit alive. I was also quite impressed with Amanda Bynes performance as Penny Pingleton: I’ve seen this young lady grow up from her All That days, and she has turned into a talented actress. Of course, the press has all been about John Travolta, and it is well deserved. He gives a remarkable interpretation of Edna, quite different than that of Divine or Harvey Fierstein (or Bruce Vilanch, who was in LA). He brings out the sexiness of Edna, and is remarkably feminine. He should return to the world of musicals, for his talent is strong. Good words also for Christopher Walken as Wilbur Turnblad, Queen Latifah as Motormouth Mabel, James Marsden as Corny Collins, Zach Efron as Linc, Michelle Pfeiffer as Velma Von Tussle, and Elijah Kelley as Seaweed. Hell, the entire cast was excellent.

But what makes this movie are the little things. The cameo of John Waters as a flasher. Casting Rikki Lake as a talent agent. Casting Jerry Stiller (who was in the original) as Mr. Pinky. Casting Adam Shankman (the executive producer) and Mark Shaiman (the composer) as talent scouts. Playing the songs deleted from the stage production over the credits, newly sung. Having the song “Mama I’m a Big Girl Now” (which played over the credits) be sung by Ricki Lake, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Nikki Blonsky, and Harvey Fierstein. These are the little gems that make this special.

I highly recommend this movie. It is an excellent movie musical.

[The theatre is another matter. It was almost deserted when were were there, a bad sign for a Friday matinee during the summer. The film had a few sound skips, and at the end the projectionist turned off the lamp too early, then turned it back on. He also let the film run out. The theatre was clean, however, and the seating and sight lines were quite good. Sound wasn’t too loud. AMC doesn’t seem to be devoting much attention to this theatre: perhaps they consider it aged, given it is 20 years old. We’ll see if other movies fare as bad.]