Year after year, NBC wows us with their live musical telecasts. They are not only important staples in the theatre community, but they are a way for all of us to begin celebrating the holidays with one another! For 2016, they chose the classic 60s era show, Hairspray. We busted out our aerosol cans of Ultraclutch as soon as we heard, and on Wednesday, it all became a reality.
For months, the cast had been preparing for an extra special night, and we at Marymount Manhattan College eagerly awaited the debut of our very own Maddie Baillio. Back in June, I wrote an article when she landed the starring role, and it's crazy to think about how it all happened so fast! Out of thousands of girls, she was the one they chose, and she most definitely lived up to all of our expectations.
Maddie is a star, plain and simple. She made Tracy completely her own, and she belted every note on point. She was one of the best, if not the best, parts of the entire show — if you didn't know that she was a newcomer to the Broadway community, you never would have thought it. She is an inspiration for girls of all shapes and sizes as confidence oozed out of each of her performances. While of course there had to be nerves, she seemed completely unafraid to become the character and own the role. She has mentioned numerous times that it was a dream of hers to play Tracy, and she fit the part perfectly.
Immediately as the notes of "Good Morning Baltimore" began, all eyes were on her. Despite a few technical difficulties, she worked through them with ease — at least that's what she made it look like! Before the show, Maddie was presented with a video montage from her new cast mates and friends wishing her luck on her first professional performance — even I got a bit teary-eyed! And the days before the show, all of MMC was abuzz — it was even overheard that a few people thought MMC should make it a school holiday so classes wouldn't happen during the broadcast. All we can say is that we're proud to have Maddie as a fellow student, and her incredible talent will surely go further than this production. We can't wait to see what's in store for her next!
Aside from Maddie, there were tons of other stars that made Hairspray Live! one-of-a-kind. For me, Kristin Chenoweth and Derek Hough shined bright. Kristin is a legend, as we all know, but it seemed that the role of Velma Von Tussle was meant for her — even if she is one of the kindest, cuddliest ladies in the business (according to Darren Criss)! Her villainous approach and flawless vocal range combined with her natural ability to conquer a stage all led to the perfect Velma. As for Derek Hough, if you didn't know him before, you certainly know him now. He is genuinely one of the best dancers I've ever seen (he was once a regular on Dancing With the Stars as well as the star of Radio City Music Hall's New York Spring Spectacular), so naturally, Corny Collins was a great role for him. And before the broadcast, I had no idea that he could sing like that! A man of many talents, he was a fan favorite of the night.
Other highlights include Jennifer Hudson as Motormouth Maybelle (that woman can belt, and she killed it when she sang "I Know Where I've Been"), Harvey Fierstein reviving his "timeless" iconic role of Edna Turnblad, Ariana Grande as Penny Pingleton, Dove Cameron as Amber Von Tussle, Garrett Clayton as Link Larkin, Martin Short as Wilbur Turnblad, and Ephraim Sykes (original cast member of Hamilton: An American Musical) as Seaweed J. Stubbs. It doesn't end there! Cameo appearances were made by Rosie O'Donnell, Billy Eichner, Sean Hayes, Andrea Martin, and two of the original Tracys from the 1988 film and Broadway productions. To tie it all together, the incredible Darren Criss hosted the show and greeted us before most commercials! Which, for me (and all of Twitter), made them much more bearable. Swoon!
Song wise, the cast pretty much nailed them all, but some of them stood out more than others. My personal favorite was "Mama, I'm A Big Girl Now". If you only know the 2007 movie, you might not recognize the song because it wasn't featured, but since the broadcast was based off of the Broadway version, it was included (thankfully)! The premise of the song is Tracy, Amber, and Penny complaining about how their moms won't let them do big girl things, and the harmonies between the girls as well as the moms are amazing. Another highlight was Chenoweth's version of "(The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs" — she added her own riffs and accents which made it unique, and it let her introduce the Velma character in a wicked way (pun was not originally intended, but now that I think about it). In that moment, we were all afraid of her! And my third pick of the night would have to be the always incredible finale jam, "You Can't Stop the Beat" — one of my favorite Broadway hits of all time. I love how it showcases each of the characters, giving them all a chance to say goodbye and give closure to their individual stories. By the way, the cast album is already available to purchase or listen to on Spotify!
Not to mention, the choreography was epic! Jerry Mitchell (known for originally choreographing Hairspray in 2003 and the film in 2007, as well as Legally Blonde, Kinky Boots and the Hedwig and the Angry Inch film) provided dance moves that were hip to both the 1960s and today. His work kept our eyes glued to the screen, especially during the bigger dance numbers ("Ladies' Choice," "Welcome to the 60s," and more). He also helped in the great decision to use the Broadway show more than the films. Exposing the world to live theatre is so important, and more often than not, people don't know about it. For one or two nights a year (this year in particular we also had Rocky Horror on FOX), everyone is able to watch and see exactly how musical theatre can change people's lives and bring communities together. There are kids out there who feel alone that might watch these specials and see that there is something greater out there for them, too.
All of the sound-stages and sets were spread across Universal Studios' backlot! If you didn't already know this, it's not only a theme park — it's also a live, working movie studio! Yes, the Hogwarts castle was even shown early on in the broadcast. It just goes to show that Hollywood magic is most definitely real. The amount of work the crew put into all of that is insane, and we were taken backstage throughout the production via Facebook Live in order to see it all. Facebook Live is a fairly new thing, and NBC decided to use it to their full advantage. Personally, I think it was a bit much — it was hard for me to keep up with both the actual show and all of the Facebook happenings, but watching it back afterwards it's so cool to see. And I've already mentioned it a million and one times, but yes, it really was live! That's what made it interesting. We got to be a part of it in real time (if you were on the East Coast, anyway), and who better than Darren Criss to give us a personal tour, am I right?
Fresh U Marymount spoke to a fan who was present at the taping and he said:
Being an audience member for Hairspray Live! was a really cool experience. I was placed on the Corny Collins Show set and got to watch the first part of the show live in front of me. My friends who were placed on the Baltimore set got to be a part of the Facebook Live segments and watch various numbers. Derek Hough came out into the audience and talked to us during some of the commercial breaks. The cast was fully involved in the action of the play and committed to their characters.
All in all, Hairspray Live! was a unique, fun and exciting experience for all of us, whether you were on the set in person or watching at home like most. So much went into it, and it definitely paid off. Next year we can look forward to seeing Bye Bye Birdie come to life, but for now we can be content with re-watching Hairspray. A big thank you to everyone involved for letting viewers be a part of it all. I give it 5 out of 5 stars!
Maddie Baillio proved that anything can happen, Griffins! Keep on dreaming and someday it might come true!
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