15 August 2007

You Can't Stop the Beat...or Can You?

Last night, I went and saw the new Hairspray movie.

I have been a bit wary of this since I first heard of its production. First off, there was already a brilliant original Hairspray, which remains one of my favorite movies ever even after almost 20 years (yikes, has it really been that long!). The first film had a subversive edge that pushed an agenda in a not-too-overt way. There was a lot going on there, but it still had camp and fun and Link Larkin.

Secondly, they cast John Travolta as Edna. Now, Edna has always been played, on the screen and on Broadway, by a man dressed as a woman. It was always obvious it was a large man behind those muumuus. Aside from a padded bra and some makeup, and perhaps a wig, it was always apparent. The audience was always grossly fascinated with this person, and that was the point. John Travolta in his prosthetics didn't really appeal to me. And, Zac Effron, you are no Michael St. Gerard.

I had seen the play on Broadway, and absolutely loved it. It kept the camp of the original, and the main message ("Integration now. Segregation never."). Although it was more pointed, after all, you can't have 15 subplots happening on the stage, the music kept it lively and the small cast kept it spirited. I believe Penny Pingleton was permanently punished with a big scarlet P in the play, but I can't be absolutely sure on that.

So the movie...it was fun but didn't work for me. The main character kept the perkiness that works on stage, but not so much in a movie. In a movie, with the close ups, she had the opportunity to play it with the edge of the original Ricki Lake character, and I didn't see that so much. The music was fun, but like many Broadway-turned-movie songs, they were too overdone. The audience couldn't feel the movement on the screen like you can on the stage, couldn't feel a part of the characters.

But to me, the main thing I couldn't get past was the Edna character. John T. played her like a female Dr. Evil, with an accent that made no sense. He was too self-conscious, too "John Travolta I am so cool." I didn't dig it. I know they wanted a big name in the cast, but c'mon. Could they not get Harvey Fierstein in there? The rest of the cast was great...Michele Pfeifer was perfect as Mrs. Von Tussell, played as an alcoholic past her prime. But the John Travolta character, rather than adding to the movie, really took away from it.

It was an ok movie, definitely not as good as the play and far from the original. It just makes me question the purpose of doing remakes like these. Yes, I get bringing Broadway to the masses, but, really, it isn't the same. There is nothing like the excitement you get when the lights go down and the curtain goes up, and the orchestra strums up the first chords. You can't get that in a theater.

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