Hairspray, Aug. 07


Livin’ large: Edna (John Travolta) and Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) in Adam Shankman’s Hairspray. © 2007 David James/New Line Cinema.

In these days of resource conservation, no one can accuse Hollywood of not recycling. Hairspray, the original John Waters film, was released in 1988, which morphed into a Broadway musical in 2002, which inspired the 2007 musical film adaptation of the Broadway show. I cannot speak for the original movie nor for the stage production that claimed eight Tony Awards. But as far as Waters’s latest collaboration with director Adam Shankman and music meister Marc Shaiman, I can say that if you’re in the mood for an exuberant song-and-dance comedy, Hairspray is your high-octane entertainment destination.

Hairspray takes place in Baltimore in the 1960s when women teased their hair into monuments and preserved it with lacquer. And beneath all that hairspray is a whimsical parody about following your dreams and believing in yourself even if you’re a size 60. It’s also a reflection on the days when black and white students didn’t mix, which serves as an unexpected anchor to a story that refuses to take itself seriously.

The star-studded cast includes John Travolta, who enhanced his body mass and crossed the gender line to play Edna, the plus-size mama of Tracy Turnblad, the wide-eyed overweight teen with a dream, played by Nikki Blonsky. The cast also includes Christopher Walken as Tracy’s father, Michelle Pfeiffer as the vicious Velma Von Tussle, Queen Latifah as Motormouth Maybelle, and Jerry Stiller, who also appeared in the original film. Few cast members escape the task of singing and dancing, and all rise to the occasion, although some of the choreography for the students was disappointing. Stealing the show are Walken and Travolta as they perform their love duet; Blonsky’s voice hits the mark right from the opening song “Good Morning Baltimore.” And throughout the movie her face maintains a constant schoolgirl glee, even as she throws food to the street rats and smiles at the neighborhood flasher.

Hairspray features The Corny Collins Show, a take-off on The Buddy Deane Show, a popular teen dance TV program that aired in Baltimore in the late 1950s. The show’s cancellation in 1964 for failure to integrate black and white dancers was Waters’s inspiration for the 1988 screenplay, starring Ricki Lake as Tracy, and as Tracy’s mom, cult star drag queen Glen “Divine” Milstead. Waters, whose offbeat productions like Pink Flamingos, Polyester, Pecker, and Cecil B. DeMented have dubbed him the Sultan of Sleaze, seems to have found a mainstream audience almost by accident. This high-energy romp delivers universal entertainment and, for those who recall the ’60s, a splash of nostalgia. B+