Tuesday, September 11, 2007

HAIRSPRAY: Travolta In A Fat Suit

HAIRSPRAY (musical)

Cast: John Travolta, Nikki Blonksky, Amanda Bynes, Christopher Walken, James Marsden and Queen Latifah
Director: Alan Shankman
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)
(pic: Travolta & Nikki Blonsky)
It is America and a social revolution is brewing. Television is still black-and-white but it is mostly white, as far as the performers are concerned. Only once a week (on 'Negro Day' Tuesdays), blacks are allowed to perform on a Baltimore network's dance show - at a time when beehive hairstyle is the rage and smoking is in vogue, even among pregnant women.
However, the times, they're a-changing. The younger generation is fighting for racial integration on television - and for 'everyday to be Negro Day'. Will the powers that be allow such nonsense? Ladies and gentleman, welcome to America of the Sixties and to the world of "Hairspray", a musical urging Americans to accept people who are 'different'.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? It is Baltimore in 1962 and chubby Tracy Turnblad (newcomer Nikki Blonsky) dreams of performing in a TV dance show with her idol Corny Collins (James Marsden). Tracy and her best friend Penny (Amanda Bynes) rush home from school everyday to catch the programme on TV - much to the chagrin of her heavily obese mother, Edna (John Travolta in drag), and Penny's highly religious mum, Prudy (Allison Janney of TV's 'West Wing'). However, when a regular on the show goes on maternity leave and an audition is held for her replacement, Tracy jumps at the chance.
At the audition, Tracy is dismissed by the show's producer (Michelle Pfeiffer) for being too fat - but Corny likes her moves and offers her a shot. Expectedly, she becomes an overnight sensation and a regular on the show. Meanwhile, Tracy befriends a bunch of black dancers and joins their pro-Integration movement led by Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah) to clamour for Negroes to perform on TV. This gets her into trouble with the police - jeopardising her plans to take part in another dance contest.

HIGHS & LOWS: "Hairspray" (based on the 1988 movie directed by John Waters) follows in the footsteps of "The Producers" and "Little Shop of Horrors" as 'song-and-dance' movies that became Broadway shows before returning to the screen in even more lavish productions. The original film starred Ricki Lake as Tracy, and the colourful Divine (real name, Harris Glenn Milstead) as Edna.
According to many critics, the late Divine had defined the role of Edna so well and memorably that it becomes a tough act to follow even for Travolta. The former "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease" star appears like 'Travolta in drag' rather than the audacious Edna played by Divine. Still, he looks pathetic enough to pass off as a shy mother who has refused to leave her house since 1951 because of her obesity.
Christopher Walken is likeable as Tracy's dad Wilbur, even standing out in his duet with Travolta for the number 'You're Timeless To Me'. However, the show-stealer is Blonsky, a charismatic starlet who grabs our attention right from the opening number and never lets go of it. She handles all her songs rather well and provides Tracy with the requisite saccharine sweetness that is integral to the role. The Sixties mood and mannerisms are also nostalgically captured in this all-star version.
One of the problems that have dogged "Hairspray" as a musical is that none of the songs are memorable or hummable enough to remember after we leave the cineplex. This version, however, will always be remembered as the one with Travolta in a fat suit, taking four hours to get ready for the camera and having his dance moves limited and constrained.

THE LOWDOWN: We thank director Alan Shankman for not ending Travolta's duet with Walken with the customary kiss. That would be like having hair in our throat!


At 1:31 am, Blogger jesscet said...

haven't been watching many movies lately but after Ratatouille, this one is another blast! So fun and entertaining.. i just loved it!

go read my own take on it on my blog (not a proper review like yours of course :p)

At 11:49 am, Blogger Lim Chang Moh said...

Hey, thanks a lot, jesscet. Will go to your blog now. Take care!


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