Positive Reviews For NBC’s Hairspray Live! [VIDEOS]

Watch the highlights clips below. Variety reviews:

It’s hard to imagine better casting for the production. Jennifer Hudson stole the show, once Motormouth Maybelle got to the screen; Ariana Grande, certifiable pop star, came away as the show’s MVP, acting as both reliably overlook-able sidekick and, once the situation required it, showstopping diva. Harvey Fierstein was predictably great, reprising his role from Broadway as Edna. Martin Short, frequently misused, found the right profile for himself as Wilbur.

Derek Hough, who can often be a distractingly energetic presence, was priceless as Corny Collins (is there a way he could just play that character, forever?). Ephraim Sykes and Shahadi Wright Joseph, both Broadway veterans despite their young ages, broke out onto the mainstream consciousness in a big way. Their number “Run and Tell That” was one of the first big hits of the evening.

The emotional highlight of the production was Hudson’s knock-out delivery of “I Know Where I’ve Been.” The anthemic call for social action has taken on added resonance in the nation’s post-election political climate, probably more so than it had when NBC chose “Hairspray” as this year’s holiday tuner back in January.

“Hairspray Live!” was clearly influenced by Fox’s production of the Emmy-winning “Grease: Live” — which had the performers scrambling across a massive lot in between numbers, with a live audience on hand to provide applause and laughter. NBC has now done four of these live musicals, starting in 2013 with “The Sound of Music,” and with each one has improved on the high-wire act of mounting a stage production for TV.

Like Variety does, other outlets have noted the occasional technical flubs and some awkwardness with staging, but without exception last night’s show is being heralded as the best of NBC’s live Broadway productions.

  • Jeffrey

    I loved it. I have seen it on stage and this matched that energy. This is their best effort by far. However, Jennifer Lopez in Bye Bye Birdie for the next one? I don’t get it.

    • Blake Mason

      Is that next December as well?

      • Jeffrey

        It said coming next December, I believe

    • timncguy

      she will be playing the role of Rose originated by Chita Rivera on broadway

      • Jeffrey

        Im not a fan of the show, but Ill give it a chance

        • lymis

          If it works, the show is a hoot. If they can’t keep it high-energy, it will be a snooze.

          Hopefully, they get that now. I think they may have learned their lesson with The Sound of Music. It’s not enough to have a “good” show, but it also has to be fun to watch.

          Personally, I like the show. I just hope for once they actually cast teenagers as the teenagers, rather than putting people who are transparently in their late 20’s or older playing high school kids.

          Chynna Phillips did a great job in the part in the TV remake, but she was pushing 30 at the time. Ann-Margaret was 24 and looked 30.

          That sort of casting, more than anything else, was part of why Grease Live fell a bit flat for me.

          • Reality.Bites

            Under 18 is nearly impossible for the long hours of prep needed for a live TV show.

            The problem is that producers are old farts like us, and once they start casting youthful 18 and 19 year-olds for teenagers they figure 28 and 29 year-olds are just as good.

            At least with a show like this they don’t have to worry what they’ll look like in season 7, when they’re still inexplicably hanging out with exactly the same people they started high school with, possibly because they all go to the same college or all landed jobs no one could ever get just out of high school.

    • lymis

      The character of Rose is that of a long-suffering Hispanic secretary of a guy who loves her but can’t commit because his mother refuses to let her son grow up, and who uses the fact that she’s Hispanic as an excuse for “no woman is good enough for my son.”

      Assuming they pull off the three-way dynamic and chemistry among Rose, her boss, and his mom, Jennifer Lopez would be perfectly fine in the role. I really haven’t seen much of her acting, so I’ll reserve judgement on that, but purely in terms of the demographics of the casting, she’s fine – right ethnicity, right age, right singing chops, potential star power.

      The last time it was on TV, it was Vanessa Williams in the role, playing Hispanic, and she pulled it off. Lopez is actually a better fit, at least on the surface of things.

      • Jeffrey

        Nothing against JLo, she’s an incredible entertainer

  • Mow

    “Divine Pet Food” with a pink flamingo neon sign. Sublime.

    • carrot festival

      Eddie’s Eggs & Dairy

      • Marymsilva

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    • Mike__in_Houston

      Here is a website where Harvey Fierstein explains the names of a bunch of the storefronts in the first scene of Hairspray. I presume that Harvey is joking when he says that he doesn’t know where “Edie’s Farm Fresh Eggs & Dairy” in the last slide comes from…


  • MB

    In other Entertainment news, Greg Lake of ELP has died. He was 69. His manager, Stewart Young, said in a statement that Lake died Wednesday after “a long and stubborn battle with cancer.”

    He went on to form ELP with keyboardist Keith Emerson and drummer Carl Palmer. With Lake as vocalist and guitarist, ELP impressed the crowds at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, and released six platinum-selling albums characterized by songs of epic length, classical influence and ornate imagery.

    Emerson died in March from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Santa Monica, Calif.

    • djcoastermark

      Another evil of the year that is 2016. Damn, let this year please be over and somehow, please somehow, end on happy note.

    • carrot festival

      I got see them in concert in the 70’s. On acid. Oh my.

      • MB

        I also saw ELP at the Indianapolis Coliseum in 1972. That was an amazing concert , the pot smoke inside was almost choking.

        • David Walker

          I appreciated the contact high.

      • Jeffg166

        Is there any other way?

    • Jeffg166

      Dying is really big this year.

    • JCF

      FUCK OFF, 2016!!!!

  • Sam_Handwich

    hubs and i enjoyed it. there were a few sound issues, but otherwise nice to watch a live performance

  • we’re still here

    Just on a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-funny girl- on a clear day you can see forever-at la cage aux folles-note, it’s cool to see a revival, and renewed interest, in musicals….

  • Blake Mason

    I didn’t see it… did John Waters make a cameo?

    • Chris

      For a minute I thought he was the “bum on the barroom stool” but I don’t think so.

      • Reality.Bites

        I noticed he was listed in the credits as associate producer. However producer credits don’t always mean any actual involvement

      • Acronym Jim

        I thought the same thing until I re=watched that section (I DVR’d it). There is a possibility that he was the pedestrian walking into a building at the 3 minute mark, but that seems a bit too pedestrian for a John Waters cameo.

    • Kevin Perez

      I thought i saw Waters but it turns out that he had a previous engagement in denver and couldn’t do a cameo.

    • JCF

      I think he was the flasher?

  • David

    I did not get the musical theatre gene and only watched the first half hour. That said, I just watched the first clip and Jennifer Hudson is amazing.

  • missmobtown

    Man, this gave me serious pangs for my hometown.

    • Sal

      LOL! How long have you been away from this rathole? You do recall that it’s NOTHING like “Hairspray”, right?

      • missmobtown

        It’s been about a year and a half, but congrats to you for making the only negative comment in this whole thread. Merry Holidays!

        • JCF

          Ignore (better yet, KILLFILE) the pathetic troll.

  • I’d much rather see them show a live performance of an actual stage production.

    • Reality.Bites

      The chances of seeing that on network TV are very slim. The audience for that is quite limited and I imagine the rights issues are daunting.

      I think the networks are to be commended for coming up with a version of the traditional musical that seems to work, long after (with few exceptions) movie musicals stopped “working.”

      • ericpayne

        Actually, most Broadway shows, at some point after they open, do film their productions — with all the appropriate wide-shots, zooms and close-ups one would expect to see in a film — in front of a live audience. It’s done for a couple of reasons: 1) to cull clips that can be part of a marketing campaign to get the butts in the seats (especially right around Tony-nomination time) and, 2) to help future casts “get up to speed” on cues, marks, etc.

        PBS used to gain the rights to airing some of these videos and would air them on “Great Performances”. That’s how I, as a teen, was exposed to Broadway for the first time, via “Sweeney Todd” with George Hearn and Angela Lansbury and “Into the Woods,” with Bernadette Peters and Chip Zien.

        So somewhere, right now, exists cinema-quality footage of Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth and Joel Grey being “Wicked,” Both Bernadette Peters and Patty LuPone belting as Momma Rose, and Sean Hayes making “Promises, Promises” (shudder… or maybe not; everything about that show might have been burned and buried in heavily-salted dirt).

        • Reality.Bites

          That’s why I specified network tv – those performances you mention – I’ve seen them too – aren’t TV network kid-friendly holiday event programming. Which is why they were on Great Performances.

          A show wanting to put bums in seats isn’t going to show itself live in HD on NBC while seats are still going for hundreds of dollars a pop in New York and there’s a tour gearing up.

  • JW Swift

    Got myself choked-up during Hudson’s big number. Not just “damn onions” waterworks, but literally having to catch my breath at the very end of the song and was almost left wondering “What the heck just happened?” I remember the only word my addled brain could get my mouth to form was “Damn.”

    And Chenoweth just plain charms the heck out of me, every time I see her in something.

    And then there was the kid playing “Link”. What an adorable boy, yet there was a maturity to his acting and what he brought to the character, which I found amazing for someone only 25 in real life.

  • Duh-David

    After the low energy opening, “Baltimore,” I nearly turned it off, but once the camera pulled away from Tracy and the bad lip-synching, it really picked up. Casting was just the right mix of comedy and Broadway veterans, and Disney kids. And once again Jennifer Hudson will win an award for singing a Jenifer Lewis showstopper.

  • TJay229

    Nope…. The Wiz still reigns, to me.

    • tcinsf

      The Wiz was awesome, but c’mon kiddo, you can’t keep the TV turned off forever! Ya gotta watch something ….

      • TJay229

        Who said I was keeping my TV off?

        I, didn’t choose to again watch this rendition of a White girl discovering she has “soul”, living in Baltimore… *yawn*

  • OdieDenCO
  • Michael R

    ” Ariana Grande, certifiable pop star, came away as the show’s MVP ”

    Discuss amongst yourselves ….


    • Chris

      A world of No! I thought she was the “one of these things does not belong” casting of the night. She threw too many “vocal runs” where they didn’t belong and she doesn’t have the diction required for Broadway, you couldn’t understand what she was singing most of the time.

    • tcinsf

      Sorry, there just ain’t much there. How did the industry go about deciding that she would be a thing?

    • Skip Intro

      The girl’s got self-confidence galore and talent but she appeared to be oddly too self-aware. She was sort of like “I’m on stage now, so y’all can leave.” And you be sure that her brother Frankie had been screaming and begging for a part in that production.

    • james1200

      She can’t act, which is weird ’cause she started with her own Nickelodeon show so she should have the basics down, right? But I admit to being a fan of her music, especially because she can do the Mariah vocal acrobatics and whistle register and it annoys the shit out of Mariah, lol!

      (Yes, her cat is the MVP in this clip.)

    • MikeBoston

      Her “acting” of stumbling around in the “I Can Hear The Bells” sequence was so distracting, and of course, I had no idea that she was a “name” entertainer, so I just kept thinking, “who is this horribly mis-cast actor and why are they fucking up their blocking so badly”

      • bambinoitaliano

        She does bring along the rating from the younger viewers who rarely seen a broadway show. In that regard she was a positive casting decision.

  • June Gordon

    How is lip syncing doing a musical “live”? But how kind of show business to become accessible to those with more modest talents.

  • I thought it was wonderful! Trudy and I are both fans of Hairspray (the movies, the musical and now this!), and the live version was a real treat.Kudos to everyone who managed to make it a great production!

  • Ragnar Lothbrok

    Saw a post from an old white guy :
    ” I swear this is the most stupid, rediculous, and blatant show of homosexuality I have ever seen. Purely insane!! “

    • Piercedchrlz

      Sooo, he liked it?

    • Reality.Bites

      Oh that silly old white guy! There’s far more stupid, ridiculous and blatant homosexuality most weeks in the cold opening of the Real O’Neals.


      That clip suggested this one:

      Who needs NBC? We put on our own musicals!

      • David Walker

        There are times I love to see grown men cry. What a joy!

    • Skip Intro

      Funny, I have the same opinion of Lindsey Graham.

    • Skip Intro

      … and really, haven’t old white guys done enough damage this year?

    • CanuckDon

      Old white guys like that will make their wives very happy when they die.

    • Sal

      I saw a similar post from a young black female. At least she spelled ridiculous correctly.

    • lymis


      It’s the difference between a character that cross-dresses or is transgender and a character that is played by someone of the opposite sex.

      Harvey is a gay man, and as an actor, he was a gay man in drag.

      EDNA is a woman. The character is a heterosexual woman. There’s no homosexuality involved. Not that that would be a bad thing.

      • bambinoitaliano

        You can’t explain that to scare white men who are afraid to touch their own buttholes.

  • tcinsf

    I ignored the prior thread because the “live” show started for us 3 hours after you guys started posting.
    All said, I enjoyed it. Thank the gods they brought in Harvey Fierstein to play Edna and purge the horror of Travolta’s take on that roll. I saw her do it on Broadway and it was amazing. Liked the rest of it, Link and Hough did a good job (but the Link role will always be Matthew Morrison’s, to me.)
    One major complaint. Arianna Grande. What, seriously, is the point of her? Now that she dared to try broadway, and she isn’t backed by autotune and LOTS of amplifiers, there is no doubt there ain’t much there. Duet with Jennifer Holiday? Yeesh.

    • GeoffreyPS

      I also thought Arianna Grande didn’t bring anything. When I saw it on stage, the actress playing the part stole the show.

  • Mike C

    Beat the movie adaptation by couple miles.

    • Reality.Bites

      They could have done that by broadcasting a still photo of Harvey Fierstein for three hours.

  • There was a lot to like about the production last night. I thought that Jennifer Hudson was too young and too thin to play Motormouth. Ariana Grande reminded me how much I enjoyed Amanda Bynes. For me, the so-called MVP in the production was Dove Cameron’s Amber. She was exceptional in every way. I think every TV musical should have Martin Short involved. And, of course, Harvey reprising his role as Edna Turnblad reminded me what made the character in the musical so enjoyable. The funniest and most malevolent line in the entire show was Edna intoning “hold Mommy’s waffles.”

  • Kevin Perez

    The technical flubs are a feature (as long as they remain inadvertant). It adds a sense of danger when you see a camera on a dolly trying to get out of the way of the wide shot that the director cut to too early or when you hear the director whisper “30 seconds” into a live mic. It makes it real. Yeah, we’re doin’ it live muddahfukkahs

    • CanuckDon

      I liked that too. In this day of “reality tv”, it’s nice to see something that actually is.

      • Reality.Bites

        Combine the two and do a live version of Spider-man. That show was like a NASCAR race for theatre lovers.

  • Don Blair

    That Grande girl must have powerful representation and put out on command. She cant sing let alone speak. She probably hums well.

    • Sal

      “…and put out on demand”

      Sexist much?

  • Mark

    Turned it off after about 15 minutes.

  • Gayer Than Thou

    You can see tears on the cheeks of several cast members during JHud’s performance. Don’t blame them at all.

  • TexasBoy

    I wasn’t going to watch it. But I thought I catch just a few minutes of it….and then I couldn’t turn it off. I’ll agree, it is the best of the Live series so far.

    • bambinoitaliano

      There are some missteps but you can’t dismiss power house and veterans like Kristine Chenoweth, Harvey Fierstein, Martin Shot and Jennifer Hudson. Even Derek Hough fits into his role nicely. Maddie Baillio seems nervous in the opening singing and dancing, you can see her laboring breath, but she settles in after.

  • Mike__in_Houston

    I thought it was odd that Rosie O’Donnell as the gym teacher was offering extra credit to any male students who wanted to take a shower. In the stage production I have seen at Miller Outdoor Theater in Houston (seven times, so I don’t think it was my imagination), she was offering the extra credit to the female students. Can anybody shed any light on which is the correct version? I’d hate to discover that Rosie O’Donnell took part in the “heterosexualizing” of that part of Hairspray.

    • Reality.Bites

      Perhaps they felt it would be best not to give the President-elect an opening to say she’s a lesbian child molester.

  • Jennifer’s voice carries such joy in the pre-recorded vocal, why didn’t her face show it? Barely a smile at all!

  • Derrick Johns

    OK, I shouldn’t even make a comment here because I know how passionate you Gay folks are about your stage musicals. I am too…passionate about any musical produced before 1968.

    I enjoyed the 2nd half of the TV production. But as much as I love Harvey this is Divine’s role forever. Of course, movies and stage musicals are different.

  • unclemike

    I haven’t watched it yet, but I am SOOO glad they went with the live audience!

  • djcoastermark
  • shrpblnd

    There were a number of strong performances, especially Jennifer Hudson. However, I thought the lighting in many scenes was awful. “Good Morning Baltimore” looked like it was shot at midnight. Where was the early morning sun? Several other scenes including Motormouth’s record shop were also way too dark.

  • dr tod

    I had a very different experience watching the show on my work computer last night. I was tuned into NBC.COM. Instead of the show itself I was treated to 3 hours of the making of Hairspray live as it was going on. It dragged, was very frenetic and the sound was not great. There were secondary cameramen behind, above or aside the active cameramen. It provided great insight into how complicated and expensive great television is done. All night I thought the production was what everyone else had seen and hey, educational but not great. Then I saw what you all saw. That was something else! Did anyone else see that? The link Joe provided did not work.

  • John Skelton

    Wonder why Nikki Blonsky didn’t have a “Tracy” cameo….

  • Bluto

    Theatre is not my thing but this had an outstanding cast, beautiful sets, great music, an even better message, damn near flawless production which is even more impressive considering how elaborate this was, it was fun & damn entertaining.
    Pity they didn’t boo mike pence though.

  • Piona O.

    On the Good Morning Baltimore number, I sense some pretty egregious lip-synching. I mean, her mouth isn’t even moving anywhere near to the sounds supposedly coming out of it.

  • karmanot

    Drek……. NEXT!…………………