Tube Talk: Musical madness

By Paula Hendrickson

Yes. Musicals. Again. (And I haven’t even reminded you to watch The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend since last season. I fully expect you already are watching every episode.)

For the past few years, NBC has aired a live musical every holiday season. Guess what? NBC’s chairman of entertainment, one of the executives behind the annual event, is Rockford native Bob Greenblatt, who fell in love with musical theater while attending Boylan Catholic High School.

The first musical NBC resurrected was The Sound of Music Live! It starred Carrie Underwood and dominated the ratings when it aired in 2013. The next year was Peter Pan Live! starring Allison Williams, but that broadcast suffered a bit because the show and its songs aren’t as widely known as The Sound of Music. Last year’s production of The Wiz garnered big ratings and rave reviews.

This year NBC is giving us Hairspray Live!

Some of you might remember when Hairspray was a 1988 John Waters movie about Tracy Turnblad, a Baltimore girl who loved to dance, played by Ricki Lake, back before it was a full-fledged musical.

Or maybe you remember that the movie was turned into a 2003 Broadway musical that earned Tony Awards for newcomer Marissa Jaret Winokur as Tracy and Harvey Fierstein as Tracy’s mother (yes, mother), Edna Turnblad. Fierstein is reprising his role for the NBC production.

No? Then surely you remember the 2007 feature film based on the Broadway musical based on the 1988 movie. That one starred John Travolta as Edna.

There’s a reason Hairspray has been re-done so many times. It’s an uplifting story about a girl beating the odds and going after what she wants. Adding great songs makes it even more entertaining.

Along with Fierstein, the NBC cast includes Jennifer Hudson, Kristin Chenoweth, Ariana Grande, Sean Hayes, Andrea Martin, Martin Short, Derek Hough, and many other familiar faces, and introduces Maddie Baillio as Tracy Turnblad.

Watch Hairspray Live! Wednesday night and by Thursday you’ll probably have songs like “Good Morning Baltimore,” “Mama I’m a Big Girl Now,” “Big Blonde and Beautiful,” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat” running through your brain.

It takes a lot of talent in front of and behind the cameras to pull off a live production like this. For a theater geek like me, NBC’s new holiday tradition of live musicals is event television at its best.

Programming Note

Hairspray Live! airs on NBC Wednesday at 7 p.m.

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