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HAIRSPRAY – Marc Shaiman

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Marc Shaiman took a break from the film scoring world in the early 2000s to embark on a Broadway career in the company of his lyricist partner Scott Wittman. The result of their collaboration was Hairspray, a charming and effortlessly sunny musical based on the 1988 film by John Waters, about an overweight teenager named Tracy Turnblad who, in 1960s Baltimore, dreams of performing on a popular TV dance show. Huge acclaim and several Tony Awards later, and things have come full-circle with the movie version of Shaiman’s musical, with Shaiman adapting his own music for the screen. With a stellar cast that includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, James Marsden, Queen Latifah, John Travolta in drag, and newcomer Nikki Blonsky as Tracy, the movie version of Hairspray is a camp, nostalgic delight. The whole thing is steeped in late-50s and early-60s rock and roll, a sort of cross between American Bandstand and Grease, and is chock-full of toe-tapping tunes, clever lyrics, great vocal performances, catchy orchestral arrangements, and an overall sense of fun and vitality that just makes it a delight from start to finish.

The highlights include the opening number, “Good Morning Baltimore”, a glorious ode to the delights of urban Maryland, which is so insanely upbeat that only the hardest of hearts could suppress a smile when the vivacious Blonsky belts it out – she sings with a huge, beaming smile on her face, and you can hear it in her voice. Pfeiffer revisits the sultry showgirl style she hasn’t shown since The Fabulous Baker Boys in “The Legend of Miss Baltimore Crabs”, a wonderfully narcissistic ode to the attitudes of small-town beauty queens.

The life-affirming and irresistibly optimistic “Welcome to the 60s” sounds like it should have been recorded by Diana Ross back in the day. Travolta and Walken have a wholly unconventional romantic duet in “You’re Timeless to Me”, and Latifah performs a show-stopping Gospel ballad in the uplifting and defiant “I Know Where I’ve Been”. And who knew James Marsden could croon like Sinatra or Martin in “It’s Hairspray”?

The jitterbuggy “Ladies’ Choice” and “Come So Far, Got So Far to Go” are the songs new to this version of Hairspray, although “The New Girl in Town” was originally written for, but dropped from, the Broadway production; these three represent Shaiman and Wittman’s best chance of Oscar recognition in 2007. Movie musicals often get short shrift on film score websites, purely because of that: they’re musicals, not scores. However, when they’re as good as Hairspray is, sometimes it pays just to stop, listen, and appreciate it for what it is.

Rating: ****½

  • Good Morning Baltimore (3:54)
  • The Nicest Kids in Town (2:42)
  • It Takes Two (3:04)
  • The Legend of Miss Baltimore Crabs (4:08)
  • I Can Hear the Bells (4:14)
  • Ladies’ Choice (2:28)
  • The New Girl in Town (2:16)
  • Welcome to the 60’s (5:13)
  • Run and Tell That (3:51)
  • Big, Blonde and Beautiful (2:35)
  • Big, Blonde and Beautiful – Reprise (1:06)
  • You’re Timeless to Me (4:47)
  • I Know Where I’ve Been (4:13)
  • Without Love (3:40)
  • It’s Hairspray (2:20)
  • You Can’t Stop the Beat (5:25)
  • Come So Far, Got So Far to Go (4:17)
  • Cooties (2:42)
  • Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now (3:19)

Running Time: 66 minutes 05 seconds

New Line Records NLR-39089 (2007)

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