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‘Hairspray Live!’ Review: The Best and Worst of NBC’s Latest Musical As It Happens—Live Blog

Follow along during "Hairspray Live!" as we review the highs and lows of NBC's three-hour production.

HAIRSPRAY LIVE! -- BTS Promo -- Pictured: (l-r) Maddie Baillio as Tracy Turnblad, Jennifer Hudson as Motormouth Maybelle, Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad

“Hairspray Live!”

Trae Patton/NBC

Wednesday night, NBC is laying it all on the line by airing a live production of “Hairspray!,” Marc Shaiman’s musical adaptation of John Waters’ 1988 film. Set in Baltimore, MD during the 1960s Civil Rights movement, “Hairspray Live!” has the opportunity to take more risks than even your typical live TV performance by drawing pressing parallels to the modern day.

READ MORE: ‘Hairspray Live’: ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’ Performance Offers Detailed First Look – Watch

So, in an effort to match their courage (with considerably less risk), IndieWire will be reviewing the three-hour special as it airs. The official synopsis, per NBC, is as follows: “In ‘Hairspray Live!,’ teenager Tracy Turnblad’s dream is to dance on ‘The Corny Collins Show,’ a local TV program. When against all odds Tracy wins a role on the show, she becomes a celebrity overnight.” Acclaimed live television director Alex Rudzinski (“Dancing with the Stars”) will join Tony-winning director Kenny Leon (“The Wiz Live!”). Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (Oscar-winning ”Chicago,” ”The Wiz Live!” and the upcoming “A Few Good Men Live!”) serve as executive producers of “Hairspray Live!”

Follow along below throughout the airing for our assessment of the best and worst moments as they happen, and check back when it’s over for final thoughts, as well as a chronological rundown of the play.

 

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:57 pm

Don’t try to stop the beat! It’s impossible!

Hanh Nguyen December 7, 201610:56 pm

It’s been swell! Live blog, out!

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:55 pm

And that’s it! Farewell from Universal City.

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:54 pm

Credits rolling, still 7 mins before 11 pm ET — get ready for some promos? Hey have you heard of the new game show “The Wall”?

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:54 pm

And there are six minutes left! No justice!

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:53 pm

D’oh looks like they cut off Kristin Chenoweth’s bow

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:52 pm

He can sing! He’s a really talented singer! Such an oversight.

Hanh Nguyen December 7, 201610:52 pm

I enjoyed Billy Eichner, but I wanted him more shout-y.

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:51 pm

They are diva-licious! But we can all kinda agree this is the musical number they tacked at the end in case they needed to make emergency cuts, right?

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:47 pm

It ain’t over yet, Jennifer Hudson and Ariana Grande will perform “Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)” next. I’m being told it’s going to be diva-licious

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:45 pm

Hanh and I’s official guess for the next 15 minutes (she’s eating): five minutes of commercials, five minute final song, five minutes of curtain call and Darren Criss.

Hanh Nguyen December 7, 201610:44 pm

Slow clap, Mike. I’m just waiting for the Milo Ventimiglia push-ups.

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:43 pm

I think that might be the joke of the night.

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:42 pm

Maybe the cast of “This Is Us” will come out and sing TWIST!

Hanh Nguyen December 7, 201610:42 pm

The song never ends, Liz.

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:42 pm

I was going to say that local news will be happy they’re not going to cut into their broadcasts… But theoretically local news is also hoping that people don’t turn off their TVs after it’s over.

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:41 pm

Harvey Fierstein owns

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:39 pm

Good point how will they fill the time? I believe The Wiz ended early last year too

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:37 pm

So this is the second-to-last song on the song list, and Maddie is killing it… but theoretically we have 20 minutes left in tonight’s broadcast?

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:35 pm

Here’s the big number: “You Can’t Stop the Beat” performed by Tracy (Maddie Baillio) and company

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:33 pm

(The more Eichner we get, the happier I’ll be. My previous Efron remark was made when I thought that the role was basically just a cameo.)

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:33 pm

“Cooties” performed by Amber (Dove Cameron)

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:31 pm

Not only did we get a second Billy Eichner appearance, but the food got here! All ready for the last half-hour!

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:25 pm

An idea: Why couldn’t Zak Efron have done the Billy Eichner bit?

Hanh Nguyen December 7, 201610:24 pm

So much tolerance, brought to you by Coke.

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:24 pm

Watching “Hairspray Live!” at an NBC screening party and this crowd erupted in cheers at Jennifer Hudson. The show stopper.

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:21 pm

“I Know Where I’ve Been” performed by Motormouth (Jennifer Hudson)

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:20 pm

You gotta admit after what has happened over the past month this is a pretty good message to see on TV right now

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:19 pm

Things that are a little too real about this show: Why yes, Seaweed COULD be killed for his involvement with a white girl in 1962.

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:17 pm

Come on I want more Billy Eichner than that!

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:17 pm

(Goodbye Billy Eichner.)

Hanh Nguyen December 7, 201610:17 pm

Dammit, Liz. There’s a character named “Link”!

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:17 pm

APPLAUDED OUT LOUD AT THE SIGHT OF BILLY EICHNER.

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:14 pm

Hanh, the Chinese is almost here! Also, it could be worse. They could still be singing about food.

Hanh Nguyen December 7, 201610:11 pm

I love the diversity of this cast and story. But you know, Seaweed is the closest I get to an Asian name in here. Nori? Wakame? Now I’m hungry for sushi.

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:11 pm

Andrea Martin and Martin Short — subtle SCTV reunion on NBC, which once ran the series in late night in the early ’80s

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:10 pm

We’d be remiss in not mentioning that Alex Rudzinski also did the live direction for “Grease Live” — which makes you realize just how important Thomas Kail was to making that production work as well as it did.

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:09 pm

Ariana sings!

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:08 pm

It’d be interesting if they tried doing “Bye-Bye Birdie” in summer. It feels more summer-y, too.

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:05 pm

But then it wouldn’t be, y’know, for Christmas!

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:03 pm

A problem with doing so many outside scenes is the darkness (if it were a different time of year this wouldn’t be an issue). “Hairspray” should really be brighter than this.

Ben Travers December 7, 201610:03 pm

Yeah, Fierstein and Martin Short have been an absolute delight. That being said, the staging has been a bit off — almost like they forced the outdoor scenes to rival what was done in “Grease: Live”…which…would never happen… There’s been some blocking/camera issues, too, and a lack of overall momentum has hurt the flow of this lengthy production.

But I’m bailing because it’s been two hours and still no Efron. eyeonefronout

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 201610:01 pm

Okay, one very cool thing about this — getting to see Fierstein in the role he originated on Broadway. I happened to see the production when it came to LA, but Bruce Vilanch isn’t quite the same.

Michael Schneider December 7, 201610:00 pm

Ha a tad amusing that NBC’s Philadelphia live remote is from the “Kimmel Center” — wrong Jimmy!

Michael Schneider December 7, 20169:55 pm

I keep waiting to see a Universal Studios tram tour go driving by

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20169:54 pm

Then they’d REALLY be in the picture.

Michael Schneider December 7, 20169:52 pm

Right now: “(You’re) Timeless to Me” by Edna (Harvey Fierstein) and Wilbur (Martin Short)

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20169:51 pm

I recall Christopher Walken and John Travolta genuinely killing this number in the 2007 movie. This pairing is… Different. (I’ll take Walken over Short a million times over.)

Michael Schneider December 7, 20169:51 pm

Coming up will be another number by Jennifer Hudson, plus a duet between Hudson and Ariana Grande so hold tight

Hanh Nguyen December 7, 20169:47 pm

Now is the time to order Chinese food delivery because we have another hour+.

Ben Travers December 7, 20169:47 pm

Tweets of the night:

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20169:45 pm

“La La Land” is the perfect movie ad to air during this.

Michael Schneider December 7, 20169:41 pm

By the way Garrett Clayton, who plays Link Larkin, is also familiar to Disney Channel viewers from his starring roles in both “Teen Beach Movie” and “Teen Beach Movie 2.” On a related note, I watch a lot of Disney Channel apparently.

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20169:39 pm

It is also weird to see a former Weight Watchers spokesperson singing this particular song.

Michael Schneider December 7, 20169:38 pm

Harvey Fierstein and Jennifer Hudson towering over Martin Short is quite a sight

Michael Schneider December 7, 20169:36 pm

Some real shaky cameras in this scene at the record store.

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20169:36 pm

“I am not throwing away my shot.” So when can we expect “Hamilton Live”? 2022?

Michael Schneider December 7, 20169:35 pm

All hail Jennifer Hudson

Michael Schneider December 7, 20169:32 pm

Teaser for “Bye Bye Birdie,” which will be NBC’s 2017 live musical, starring Jennifer Lopez

Ben Travers December 7, 20169:30 pm

Eye on Efron: 90 minutes in, no sign of Zac Attac(k).

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20169:28 pm

New Toyotas, retro execution. Ah, the fun of branded content.

Ben Travers December 7, 20169:26 pm

Guys, he’s never too busy for his passion projects, but he’s also busy promoting “Baywatch.”

Michael Schneider December 7, 20169:26 pm

Live Toyota ad

Michael Schneider December 7, 20169:24 pm

Kids, lemme tell you about these businesses that they once called “record stores.”

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20169:19 pm

“You have acne of the soul” is a burn that proves timeless.

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20169:18 pm

So advertising-wise, is this hairspray-brand agnostic?

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20169:18 pm

Or “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates 2.”

Hanh Nguyen December 7, 20169:14 pm

Ben, he’s too busy with “Neighbors 3” probably.

Ben Travers December 7, 20169:12 pm

Oh, I get it. He’s probably having trouble fitting into the suits.

Zac Efron Hairspray

Michael Schneider December 7, 20169:12 pm

I love that the median age of the Hairspray Live “social squad” appears to be 12

Hanh Nguyen December 7, 20169:09 pm

Not that I want to see disrobing, but even a glimpse of how Harvey does the quick change would’ve been fun to see on the BTS. Not that wide shot of the street.

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20169:07 pm

They aren’t really doing a lot to differentiate the fantasy moments, are they? Like, the Dynamites are a fun addition, but it’s like, it all kind of lumps together.

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20169:02 pm

“A little movie magic — something we have a lot of in LA — water!”

Hanh Nguyen December 7, 20169:02 pm

No, Darren Criss, no.

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20169:00 pm

Blowing off Darren Criss is never a wrong move, Ms. Chenowith.

Michael Schneider December 7, 20169:00 pm

I hate to break it to you, Ben…

Michael Schneider December 7, 20168:59 pm

As far as I remember the past NBC live musicals haven’t broken the fourth wall between breaks (or had a live host like Darren Criss) before. Interesting to see the impact of “Grease Live” in some cases.

Ben Travers December 7, 20168:59 pm

But seriously: Where’s Zac Efron?

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20168:57 pm

Weird to hear someone on NBC talk so much about diversity.

Michael Schneider December 7, 20168:57 pm

“Velma’s Revenge” by Velma (Kristin Chenoweth)

Ben Travers December 7, 20168:57 pm

NBC and NBC Sports have done well in the past showcasing various camera angles with their online viewing options. For instance, watching Sunday Night Football online is far superior than its traditional counterpart because of all the different perspectives viewers can choose from.

But I gotta say, the behind-the-scenes video for “Hairspray Live!” could only work if you’ve seen the play a dozen times. And even then, it’s gotta be pretty frustrating to be repeatedly pulled away from the action. So far what’s been offered as recompense — phony backstage excitement and watching hosts watch the actors set up for shots we won’t see — simply can’t balance the scales. You’re basically being spared the commercials at the cost of key visuals — especially with so much of this staging being played straight to camera.

Hanh Nguyen December 7, 20168:56 pm

I appreciate the hair and makeup on this. Link looked properly mannequin-esque. Watch out, Kim Cattrall!

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20168:55 pm

Wait, isn’t Link supposed to be singing this song JUST for Tracy? Corny Collins lies!

Michael Schneider December 7, 20168:54 pm

Oops I was too early — NOW it’s Now: “It Takes Two” by Link (Garrett Clayton) and Tracy (Maddie Baillio)

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20168:52 pm

That woman president joke is maybe too soon.

Michael Schneider December 7, 20168:47 pm

Earlier this year Fox’s Grease Live averaged a 4.3 rating/13 share in adults 18-49 and 12.2 million viewers overall. That starred Julianne Hough. Will her brother Derek beat it with tonight’s Hairspray Live? We’ll find out tomorrow — should make for interesting holiday conversations around the Hough house!

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20168:44 pm

Just learned from the BTS feed that when “American Bandstand” integrated in 1957, the local Baltimore station dropped the show. Good night, Baltimore, I guess.

Michael Schneider December 7, 20168:42 pm

“Ladies’ Choice” by Corny Collins (Derek Hough)

Hanh Nguyen December 7, 20168:41 pm

Are lettermen sweaters still a thing? We didn’t have them in my high school. I only got a jacket, which can be overkill in sweltering Houton.

Michael Schneider December 7, 20168:41 pm

Now: “It Takes Two” by Link (Garrett Clayton) and Tracy (Maddie Baillio)

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20168:41 pm

“@Rosie can’t get more than a cameo on NBC! I had a TV show! Sad.”

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20168:40 pm

I feel like high school discipline has changed a lot since the 1960s. Like, if I knew that detention regularly became a dance party, I don’t know if I’d have graduated.

Michael Schneider December 7, 20168:39 pm

Rosie O’Donnell as The health ed teacher. I wonder if @realDonaldTrump is live tweeting

Ben Travers December 7, 20168:37 pm

When’s Zac Efron showing up?

Michael Schneider December 7, 20168:36 pm

Reddi Whip one of several advertisers you’ll see tonight integrated into “Hairspray Live.” A few ads will be performed live — a throwback to the early days of TV

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20168:33 pm

Man, Kristin Chenowith is so often the very best thing in whatever she’s in.

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20168:33 pm

The biggest thing to pull off with some of these numbers is the transition between fantasy and reality in a real-time context — what do you guys think?

Michael Schneider December 7, 20168:32 pm

Dove Cameron, who Disney Channel fans know from “Liv and Maddie,” is an early standout and has a substantial role as Amber Von Tussle. Sort of a younger Chenoweth.

Michael Schneider December 7, 20168:31 pm

Now: “(The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs” performed by Velma (Kristin Chenoweth)

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20168:29 pm

The advantage “Grease Live” had there was starting at 4pm PST, as opposed to 5pm.

Hanh Nguyen December 7, 20168:29 pm

Foiled by Daylight Saving!

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20168:26 pm

Via the livestream, we saw how the opening shots came together — specifically, the transition from Tracy’s bedroom to the streets of Baltimore. The fact that the production features outdoor sets is a clear indication that January’s “Grease Live” (which not only went outdoors, but had the balls to keep going even when rain threatened) has made its mark on the live musical landscape.

Michael Schneider December 7, 20168:26 pm

Next up: “I Can Hear the Bells” by Tracy and company

Michael Schneider December 7, 20168:25 pm

Early thoughts: Some serious lighting issues. I liked the idea of “Good Morning Baltimore” being performed live on the Universal backlot, but as the sun had already set in Los Angeles, the scene was dark. Also: problem with lighting star Maddie Baillio in one of the early numbers.

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20168:18 pm

(The backstage feed is arguably more interesting. There’s also on-screen trivia and you can see how they’ve utilized their studio spaces to accommodate multiple sets.)

Hanh Nguyen December 7, 20168:16 pm

For those interested, NBC.com is also simultaneously airing the behind-the-scenes of the filming. So we can see the camera work and stage directions as they happen. Pretty cool

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20168:16 pm

Fun fact: The 2007 “Hairspray” film had a runtime of 117 minutes. NBC has this live event scheduled for three hours. Ready yourself for some epic commercial breaks.

Liz Shannon Miller December 7, 20168:15 pm

And we’re off to the races with two big musical numbers! Oh, and some casual racism inherent to the 1960s.

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