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Broadway musical as a summer blockbuster
John Travolta and Nicole Blonsky Star in the Musical/Comedy "Hairspray".
OPENING WEEKEND: $28,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $88,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

February 19th, 2007: In 1960s Baltimore, during the nation’s television dance show craze, plump, but pleasant high school outsider Tracy Turnblad (Nicole Blonsky) attempts to break out of the boundaries set upon her. Along with her best friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes), Tracy auditions for a part on the popular local TV program for teens, “The Corny Collins Show.” No one is surprised more when she makes it on than Tracy herself, but her newfound popularity is quickly in jeopardy when it catches the attention of a scheming and jealous rival, the attractive Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow). Things turn even more dramatic when Tracy wins the heart of Amber’s ex-boyfriend Link Larkin (Zac Efron). Together with her bitter TV station owner mother, former beauty queen Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer), Amber attempts to destroy Tracy, get her off “The Corny Collins Show,” and off the air for good.

What to Expect: Nearly 20 years following the release of the original John Waters comedy about the star-struck teenagers, New Line Cinema is bringing a new, re-imagined version to the big screen. It is important to make the distinction between it being a re-imagining rather than a remake, because it is actually using the Broadway musical as the source. The Tony Award winning show “Hairspray,” which debuted in 2002 and won a total of eight awards, including ones for Best Score, Best Director, and Best Musical, was based on John Waters’ 1988 cult classic. The new film version is essentially a big-screen adaptation of the musical and will probably have more in common with the Broadway show than with the original motion picture. The idea here is that a copy of a copy somehow becomes its own new thing.

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Leslie Dixon, Thomas Meehan, and Mark O’Donnell have received credit for the screenplay, but only Dixon’s resume reveals a little bit of what the film may be like. She’s written for flicks like The Thomas Crown Affair and Pay It Forward, as well as for popular comedies like Overboard, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Freaky Friday, which share Hairspray’s elements of cross-dressing and role-reversal. Adam Shankman, who directed a slew of panned comedies, including Bringing Down the House, The Pacifier, and Cheaper by the Dozen 2, has been chosen to helm the film. One would think that the producers could have selected a much better director for the project and indeed they first approached Rob Marshall, the director of the Oscar winning musical Chicago from a few years back. He declined, possibly because he didn’t want to get stuck in the Broadway musical adaptation mold. Reportedly, 15 other directors were approached with offers prior to Shankman, so it is quite clear that he was not the first choice. On the plus side, the filmmaker actually has musical choreography experience. Prior to taking on directing duties for the second-rate comedies mentioned above, Shankman worked as a choreographer on flicks like Boogie Nights, Blast from the Past, The Wedding Planner, and the musical episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” It’s good to know that he’s bringing some relevant experience with him and that he has actually felt very comfortable about taking on the challenge.

With the writers and director lacking a bit in the talent department, it may be up to the film’s star power to save the day. At one point or another actors and artists like Jim Broadbent, Billy Crystal, Aretha Franklin, Patti La Belle, Mandy Moore, Haylie Duff, Meryl Streep, and Usher Raymond were all rumored to be part of the cast. The actual lineup that has been assembled is no less impressive and may in fact make Hairspray one of the most star-studded features of the year.

John Travolta, who slips into the part of Tracy’s mother Edna, leads the remarkable collection of talent. Ever since the 1988 original, in which Baltimore’s most famous transvestite Divine played Edna, a man has always been destined to take on the part. Travolta reportedly spent four to five hours each day putting on his make-up and fat suit, both of which made the shoot very grueling during the hot days. Shankman and Travolta are reportedly concentrating on making sure that Edna comes off as a real woman and a loving mother rather than a campy transvestite joke. Judging by the pictures from the production, I’m not sure that’s possible.

The sexy 49-year-old Michelle Pfeiffer, who has rarely appeared on-screen in the past five years, is likely to become a scene-stealer in Hairspray. Along with I Could Never Be Your Woman and Stardust, Hairspray is one of three films that the actress stars in this year, so I’m sure the media will jump all over the comeback story. As the former Miss Baltimore Crabs beauty queen and current owner of the Baltimore TV station on which “The Corny Collins Show” airs, Pfeiffer will play the bitter villain of the movie. Her character, Velma Von Tussle is an amazing amalgam of contradictions and director Shankman has already promised that he will dress the star in an extensive variety of wigs and outfits throughout the movie to match her wild personality.

The film’s colorful and sometimes even spot-on casting goes even further. Queen Latifah, who received an Oscar nomination for her supporting turn in Chicago, is probably the ideal choice for hip DJ Motormouth Maybelle, as she re-teams with her Bringing Down the House director. The ingenious Christopher Walken, who has always pleaded with filmmakers to let him utilize his song and dance skills on screen, will play Wilbur Turnblad, Edna’s husband. Here’s hoping that we get a magical onscreen kiss between Walken and Travolta. Jerry Stiller, who played Wilbur in the 1988 original, has been recast to play Mr. Pinky. James Marsden, most famous for his role as Cyclops in the X-Men franchise, will play television show host Corny Collins. Director John Waters and original Tracy Turnblad, Ricki Lake, will also return for the big-screen update. Both are expected to make brief cameos in the film.

Of course, the completely unknown Nicole Blonsky will take on the role of the protagonist of this big-budget musical extravaganza. The 18-year-old Great Neck native, whose only gigs thus far have been on stage in her hometown musicals, was discovered during a nationwide casting search for the part and will make her big screen debut in the lead role of Tracy. In order to play the part, Blonsky had to quit her job as an ice cream store employee, so her story can be considered a true Hollywood breakthrough. Her vocal coach praised her as well as youngsters Amanda Bynes and Zac Efron greatly during rehearsals.

Executive producers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who won a Tony Award for their score to the Broadway musical, have announced that they are contributing new songs for the film version. In some cases, modifications and changes were necessary. Fans of the Broadway musical that are interested to find out which songs made the cut and any other details about the production, even the most trivial, should check out the blog on the film’s official website or search around on the Hairspray movie musical fan blog, which can be found here. Blonsky and Pfeiffer will both reportedly get to sing new tunes in the movie.

Filming has been taking place in Toronto, Canada, undoubtedly to save some change on what has already become a pricey production with a budget in the vicinity of around $100 million. Needless to say, Baltimore residents have felt offended that the Baltimore-set story is actually being filmed in Canada, but that’s to be expected, especially from a musical that relies so heavily on sets. Just to remind everyone, Toronto is where the vast majority of Chicago was shot as well. The good news is that the sets look elaborate, authentic, and amazing, which should serve the story well.

Unfortunately, I doubt that Hairspray will actually break any new ground once it hits theaters. If you want to imagine what this movie will be like then simply imagine a John Waters movie “watered” down for the mainstream. With the original, Waters, who is known for his frequently disturbing content, actually managed to make a fairly tame film. Still, the 1988 version of Hairspray contains decidedly subversive moments as well as commentary on racial and social integration. This new adaptation is more likely to focus on Tracy’s rise from outsider to celebrity, especially in this day and age where shows like “American Idol” dominate the media.

In Conclusion: After the hit Broadway musical adaptation Chicago won six Academy Awards out of an impressive 13 nominations, there have been numerous other attempts to replicate the success. However, big-screen adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera, Rent, and The Producers (which was also an adaptation of a Broadway musical based on a previous motion picture) all turned out to be commercial and critical flops. Hairspray has a better shot at success, commercially speaking at least, largely thanks to its impressive cast, its summer blockbuster budget, and its American Idol-like story. Producers are definitely expected to make a big push for the film to succeed this summer, as a line of dolls will even accompany the movie’s release. I’m hesitant about the merits of its content, particularly with the director and writers involved, whom I sense will transform it into a big campy joke with Travolta front and center as the movie’s poster boy/girl. A big advertising campaign, however, should fill out some seats when this oddball production finally hits the theaters.

Similar Titles: Hairspray (1988), The Producers, Grease
July 20th, 2007 (wide)
November 20th, 2007 (DVD)

New Line Cinema

Adam Shankman

John Travolta, Nicole Blonsky, Amanda Bynes, Christopher Walken, Zac Efron, Elijah Kelley, Queen Latifah, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brittany Snow, James Marsden, Allison Janney, Taylor Parks, Jerry Stiller

Total: 258 vote(s).

Comedy, Special Interests

Click here to view site

Rated PG for language, some suggestive content and momentary teen smoking.

117 min





Hairspray at RottenTomatoes.com

Hairspray at AskMen.com

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