The Journey of HAIRSPRAY- From Screen to Stage and Back Again!
Tonight, America shall be introduced to the fourth incarnation of Hairspray. The first was the 1988 original film, the second was the 2002 Broadway musical, the third was its 2007 film adaptation, and now the 2016 live television production on NBC. Hairspray takes place in Baltimore, Maryland in the year 1962, where we meet a plump teenage girl named Tracy Turnblad, whose lifelong dream is to dance on the local TV dance program known as The Crony Collins Show. When Tracy wins a role on the show and becomes an overnight sensation, she launches a campaign to integrate the show. As a Welcome to the 60's, let's go back to beginning to learn the history of the property itself.
The roots of Hairspray begins with independent Baltimorian filmmaker John Waters. He started out making short films in 1964 when he was only 18 years old before releasing his first feature length film in 1969 which was Mondo Trasho. Since then, he made a whole series of controversial films that were campy filled with exaggerated characters caught in outrageous situations such as Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Desperate Living, and Polyester. The original idea for Hairspray came from an article he wrote in Baltimore Magazine about a reunion featuring several stars of The Buddy Deane Show. It was a local television variety show similar to American Bandstand that took place in the 1950's and 60's. The article was what led to him conceiving a fictional story inspired by The Buddy Deane Show, thus he began writing a screenplay.
John Waters had been friends with an actor named Divine since high school. When Waters started making movies, Divine had always been his muse. He would usually star in his films as a woman. In the beginning, Divine thought he'd be playing Tracy and her mother, Edna Turnblad. But John Waters only wanted him to play Edna, thus being his first (and only) film in which Divine wasn't the main character. The role of Tracy Turnblad went to a then unknown actress at the time named Ricki Lake. She went to an open call and was immediately won over by John Waters. The rest of the cast included Jerry Stiller as Wilbur Turnblad; Ruth Brown as Motormouth Maybelle; Colleen Fitzpatrick as Amber Von Tussle; Debbie Harry as Velma Von Tussle; Sonny Bono as Franklin Von Tussle; Leslie Ann Powers as Penny Pingleton; Michael St. Gerard as Link Larkin; Clayton Prince as Seaweed J. Stubbs; and Shawn Thompson as Corny Collins.
After having its premiere in Baltimore ten days earlier, Hairspray was released in movie theatres on February 26th, 1988. It received many favorable reviews from critics. It may not have been a huge commercial success when it came out, but was an overall success for New Line Cinema and moved John Waters' reputation much more into the mainstream. Divine, who earned some of the best reviews of his career unfortunately died of an enlarged heart almost two weeks later. As for Ricki Lake, it wasn't until the first time she saw the film at an early screening when she realized that she was the star. Lake went on to appear in several more of Waters' films such as Cry-Baby, Serial Mom, Cecil B. Demented, & A Dirty Shame. At age 24, she became the youngest person (at the time) to have ever hosted a daytime talk show in 1993 when she launched Ricki Lake on syndication, which would run for 11 years.
When theatrical producer Margo Lion had seen Hairspray in 1998 after renting it from the video store, she felt that it had the perfect ingredients for a Broadway musical. The first person she got in contact with was of course, John Waters. Waters had been a fan of musicals when he was younger, but grew to dislike them as they started getting more power ballads from the British Invasion of big budget spectacles in the 1980's. However, he was so curious to see how Hairspray would translate, that he ended up giving Margo Lion his blessing. Lion then went to New Line Cinema to option the title.
When she started putting a team together, the first person she went to was composer Marc Shaiman about doing the score. Shaiman had previously written scores for several films such as Misery, The Addams Family, City Slickers, A Few Good Men, Sister Act, Sleepless in Seattle, The First Wives Club, and South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut. He said to Lion that he would only do Hairspray if his partner Scott Wittman would work with him on the lyrics. They watched the film together, and several lines jumped out to them as ideas for songs. They knew the musical had to begin with Tracy singing 'Good Morning Baltimore' like how Oklahoma! begins with Curly McLain singing 'Oh, What a Beautiful Morning'. Margo Lion had sent the songs Shaiman and Wittman wrote to John Waters for his opinion, and felt that they both nailed the tone of his film.
When it came to deciding who would adapt Hairspray for the stage, the producers knew they didn't want to do a carbon copy-and-paste job as several screen-to-stage adaptations suffered from that. They wanted to create an adaptation that honored the original film, but could also stand on its own. Lion went to Thomas Meehan, who wrote the books for Annie and The Producers, and comedy writer Mark O'Donnell to write the book. Lion contacted director/choreographer Rob Marshall about doing Hairspray. Marshall had started out his career as a dancer on Broadway before transitioning into choreography on both stage and screen. He agreed to be involved in the early development stages, but only on the condition that he'd be allowed to drop out as he was at the time in negotiations to direct a film adaptation of the musical Chicago.
The one concern everyone had at the time was finding the right girl to play Tracy Turnblad. They knew the girl not only had to be plumpy, but also a real triple threat. Rob Marshall knew of one who had a small role in Sam Mendes' (who worked with Marshall on the acclaimed 1998 revival of Cabaret) film American Beauty. Marissa Jaret Winokur made her Broadway debut as Jan in the 1994 revival of Grease. After the production closed in 1998, she moved to California feeling there wasn't a lot of opportunities for women of her size on Broadway. Winokur was the very first person to audition for the role. She didn't neccessarily get it right away, but she did become involved in workshops of the musical as it progressed. Even though they were still auditioning hundreds of girls for Tracy, Winokur still felt confident that she was going to get the part. As she kept training for the role, she was diagnosed with cancer. Winokur didn't tell anyone involved with the show because she knew she'd get replaced if she did. It was only three months before the last reading when Winokur found out that she was cancer free. It was after the last reading when she found out that she officially got the role.
When it came to casting the role of Edna Turnblad, the creative team very smartly chose to stick with John Waters' vision by having a man play the role. They kept thinking about who would be a great actor to play a woman, yet have a really distinctive voice. Harvey Fierstein's breakout role was starring as a Jewish homosexual drag queen in his 1982 play Torch Song Trilogy. That won him his first two Tony Awards as both an actor and playwright. He continued working on and off-Broadway throughout the 80's and early 90's before fading into obscurity due to depression from losing his friends during the AIDS crisis. He appeared in several films such as as Mrs. Doubtfire, Bullets Over Broadway, Independence Day, and Mulan. He also made several appearances on television (even receiving an Emmy nomination for an episode of Cheers). At first, the creative team wasn't interested in seeing him, but his manager kept pushing them saying that Harvey wants to come in and audition. When he came into the audition room, the creative team knew there was no one else for the role.
After Rob Marshall left the project to make Chicago, the producers went with Jack O'Brien to direct and Jerry Mitchell to choreograph. O'Brien at the time was the Artistic Director of the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego before leaving in 2007. Mitchell had started out his career as a dancer on Broadway before transitioning to choreography. The rest of the original Broadway cast included Dick Latessa as Wilbur Turnblad; Mary Bond Davis as Motormouth Maybelle; Laura Bell Bundy as Amber Von Tussle; Linda Hart as Velma Von Tussle; Kerry Butler as Penny Pingleton; Corey Reynolds as Seaweed J. Stubbs; Clark Thorell as Corny Collins; and Jackie Hoffman as the Female Authority Figure (Prudy Pingleton/Gym Teacher/Matron). The actor who was originally cast to play Link Larkin was James Carpinello, but had to drop out before performances began in Seattle due to scheduling conflicts. So therefore, his understudy ended up taking on the role, and that understudy was a young Matthew Morrison.
After a very successful out-of-town tryout at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, Hairspray opened on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre on August 15th, 2002, and quickly became the hit of the season. On February 23rd, 2003, the original cast recording won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, making Hairspray the last Broadway musical to have won that award before even receiving a single Tony nomination (until Hamilton won earlier this year). On June 8th, 2003, the 57th Tony Awards were held at Radio City Music Hall, hosted by Hugh Jackman, and broadcast on CBS. The nominees for Best Musical that year were Amour, Hairspray, Movin' Out, and A Year with Frog & Toad. Hairspray had a total of 13 nominations. It ended up taking home 8 awards for Best Musical, Best Lead Actor in a Musical for Harvey Fierstein, Best Lead Actress in a Musical for Marissa Jaret Winokur, Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Dick Latessa, Best Direction of a Musical for Jack O'Brien, Best Book of a Musical for Thomas Meehan & Mark O'Donnell, Best Original Score for Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman, and Best Costume Design for William Ivey Long.
On January 4th, 2009, Hairspray played its final Broadway performance after of run of 2,642 performances. Around that time, the economy was in such turmoil that it caused so many Broadway shows to close one right after another. It was one year later when the musical became available for licensing via Music Theatre International.
In response to the success of Hairspray came a musical adaptation of John Waters' follow-up film Cry-Baby, for which he was actually much more involved in the creative process. For those of you who weren't able to see Cry-Baby when it was on Broadway in 2008, a cast recording featuring most of the original Broadway cast was finally released last year as the licensing rights were just released by Music Theatre International. I do recommend listening to it as the songs by Fountains of Wayne bass player Adam Schlesinger and The Daily Show writer David Javerbaum are much closer to the tone of John Waters than the songs in Hairspray. But nonetheless, the Broadway production of Cry-Baby failed to live up to the critical and commercial success Hairspray had. It even ended up closing just one week after the 2008 Tony Awards where it earned 4 nominations (including Best Musical), but no wins.
After Hairspray became the hit that it was on Broadway, New Line Cinema started having discussions about doing a film adaptation of the musical. Jack O'Brien and Jerry Mitchell were originally brought on board to work on the film with Thomas Meehan and Mark O'Donnell writing the screenplay, but scheduling conflicts with their theatre careers got in the way. The producers that New Line ended up settling on for the film were Craig Zadan and Neil Meron.
The two of them both started out producing cabaret acts before heading to The Public Theatre to work for Joseph Papp. In the early 1980's, film producer Peter Guber met with the pair about getting himself into the theatre industry. He would return the favor by teaching them about movies and television. Zadan and Meron then went out to California to get started in the industry. Their first three films as producers were Footloose, Sing, and If Looks Could Kill. They've also spent time going to every single studio in Hollywood about doing a movie musical. But whenever they made that pitch, they'd get thrown out by the executives saying "Musicals are dead, a thing of the past, no one wants to see them!" They later received a call one day from an agent who represented Arthur Laurents about doing a TV movie version of Gypsy. They took the project to CBS, and moved forward with Bette Midler in the starring role of Mama Rose. When the film premiered on December 12th, 1993, it ended up being a huge ratings success, even receiving 12 Emmy nominations (including Outstanding Television Movie).
Zadan and Meron then went on to make three more TV film musicals for The Wonderful World of Disney on ABC which were Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, Annie, & The Music Man. When the TV version of Annie debuted on November 7th, 1999, one of the viewers tuning in was film producer/executive Harvey Weinstein. He was so impressed with it, he called up the director/choreographer Rob Marshall about directing a feature film adaptation of the musical Rent. Marshall used that opportunity to give his pitch for another stage-to-screen adaptation Weinstein had in development for a while, which was Chicago. After Marshall was quickly hired, he brought both Zadan and Meron on board to have them there right by his side. The end result of that was the highest grossing film in the history of Miramax and the first musical to have won the Oscar for Best Picture since Oliver! back in 1969.
After the success of Chicago, Zadan and Meron knew they wanted to do another movie musical, but they also wanted it to be radically different. When they saw that New Line Cinema was developing Hairspray, they went in for a number of meetings before finally landing the job. Adam Shankman, who started out his career as a professional dancer before transitioning into filmmaking with The Wedding Planner, A Walk to Remember, Bringing Down the House, The Pacifier, and Cheaper By the Dozen 2 was hired to direct and choreograph the film. Leslie Dixon, who previously wrote several films such as Mrs. Doubtfire, The Thomas Crown Affair, Pay It Forward, and Freaky Friday was then brought on board to write the screenplay.
Since most of the money that went into the budget came from China, the filmmakers knew they needed a name not just for commercial appeal, but also to gain enough interest from Chinese investors. So when casting began, the filmmakers first went out to John Travolta about playing Edna Turnblad. Travolta was previously approached by Zadan and Meron several times about playing Billy Flynn in Chicago, but turned them down. When he was approached for Hairspray, he kept the filmmakers waiting for over a year. One of the reasons was because Travolta was nervous about the fact that it had been nearly 30 years since he did Grease, and nobody had replaced him as the biggest male superstar of movie musicals. He was so intimidated about the decision that he just kept putting it off. He also didn't understand why the filmmakers came to him for the role. When he later realized what he would be able to do as Edna, Travolta finally agreed to do it. Once he signed on, Travolta was very adamant about having Christopher Walken play Wilbur because he knew that he started out his career as a song and dance man. He also felt that if he was going to transform himself into a plus sized woman, he needed an Academy Award winning actor to play his husband.
When it came to casting the coveted role of Tracy Turnblad, there was a series of open calls that took place all over the country. Early in the process, they came across a 17-year-old girl from New York who worked at Cold Stone Creamery. She had previously auditioned for the Broadway show, but was too young at the time. Eight months later, the filmmakers officially decided that Nikki Blonsky was their Tracy Turnblad. The rest of the cast included Queen Latifah as Motormouth Maybelle; Michelle Pfieffer as Velma Von Tussle; James Marsden as Corny Collins; Amanda Bynes as Penny Pingleton; Zac Efron as Link Larkin; Elijah Kelley as Seaweed J. Stubbs; Brittany Snow as Amber Von Tussle; Taylor Parks as Little Inez; and Allison Janney as Prudy Pingleton. The film also included cameo appearances by John Waters as The Flasher, Jerry Stiller as Mr. Pinky, and Ricki Lake as a talent agent.
When bringing a Broadway show from stage to screen, it's important to honor the original material while at the same time, reinterpret it as a film. Some of the best stage-to-screen transfers were the ones that followed those rules (West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Oliver!, Cabaret, Grease, Little Shop of Horrors, Chicago, Sweeney Todd, Les Miserables). So therefore, the plot had to be restructured in order to work directly as a movie musical. The film went deeper into the story, some songs were moved around, some plot points were dropped, some new ones were added in, and the winner of the Miss Teenage Hairspray Pageant was changed. Three songs from the Broadway show were cut from the plot which were 'Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now', 'The Big Dollhouse', and 'Cooties'. Two new songs were incorporated into the plot of the film which were 'Ladies Choice' (written as an Elvis-like number just for Zac Efron) and 'The New Girl in Town' (a song that was actually previously written for the Broadway show, but was cut out of town). A third new song was originally written, recorded, and filmed called 'I Can Wait' which Tracy sang in the third act of the film, but was cut as it slowed the momentum down. Several new songs were written with the intention of replacing 'Miss Baltimore Crabs', but Michelle Pfieffer felt that neither of them had the depth of characterization Velma needed to have, so 'Miss Baltimore Crabs' ended up staying in the film. While 'Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now' wasn't actually used in the film, Marc Shaiman did reconceive it as an end credits song recorded by Ricki Lake, Marissa Jaret Winokur, and Nikki Blonsky. He also took the melody from the song 'Cooties' and used it as underscore for the Miss Teenage Hairspray competition. The end credits began with an original song titled 'Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)' that was sung by Nikki Blonsky, Zac Efron, Elijah Kelly, and Queen Latifiah.
After Chicago became the success that it was, Hollywood was suddenly interested in musicals again. Several more Broadway shows were brought to the big screen before Hairspray such as The Phantom of the Opera, Rent, and The Producers, but there wasn't one that lived up to the success nor acclaim Chicago had until Dreamgirls came out. When the film adaptation of Hairspray was released on July 20th, 2007, it was another home run for the genre as it broke the record for the biggest opening weekend for a movie musical. It held on to that record until Mamma Mia! came out one year later. But nonetheless, Hairspray does still stand as one of the most critically and commercially successful movie musicals of the 21st century (as well as the best reviewed film of Adam Shankman's career). It went on to receive three Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture-Comedy/Musical, Best Actress in a Motion Picture-Comedy/Musical for Nikki Blonsky, and Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for John Travolta. It was also nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Unfortunately, no Golden Globes ceremony took place that year due to the writers strike, so the winners were announced on a national news conference instead. Hairspray ended up losing all three awards to the film adaptation of Sweeney Todd, Marion Cotillard in La Vie en rose, and Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men.
After the success of the 2007 movie musical, New Line Cinema began developing a sequel with John Waters writing a treatment, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman writing new songs, and Adam Shankman returning to direct. The story would have taken place in the late 1960's with the Hippie movement, British Invasion, and Vietnam War used as backdrops. But unfortunately, the sequel never came to fruition.
On January 13th, 2016, NBC chairman Robert Greenblatt announced on the Television Critics Assoiciation press tour that following the first three live musicals the network produced with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, and The Wiz), their next musical was going to be Hairspray. At the helm is Tony Award-winning director Kenny Leon, who previously helmed The Wiz last year with live television direction by Alex Rudzinski, who recently won an Emmy for Grease: Live this past year. Original choreographer Jerry Mitchell returns to choreograph the production and Harvey Fierstein has not only adapted the musical for television, but also returns to his Tony-Winning role as Edna Turnblad. Marking the second time Fierstein has reprised one of his theatrical roles on screen, the first being a film adaptation of his play Torch Song Trilogy in 1988. Even though Zadan and Meron were the ones who wanted John Travolta to play Edna in their film adaptation, they both knew it was important for Harvey to return to the role in Hairspray Live!.
Once again, the role of Tracy Turnblad is played by a newcomer, and the newcomer this time is a 20-year-old girl from Texas named Maddie Baillio. She was able to beat out over 1,000 other girls from all over the country who came to an open call in New York City. The rest of the cast includes Martin Short as Wilbur Turnblad; Jennifer Hudson as Motormouth Maybelle; Kristin Chenoweth as Velma Von Tussle; Derek Hough as Corny Collins; Ariana Grande as Penny Pingleton; Garrett Clayton as Link Larkin; Ephraim Sykes as Seaweed J. Stubbs; Dove Cameron as Amber Von Tussle; Shahadi Wright Joseph as Little Inez; Andrea Martin as Prudy Pingleton; Sean Hayes as Mr. Pinky; Rosie O'Donnell as the Gym Teacher; Paul Vogt (a former Edna from the Broadway show) as Mr. Harriman F. Spritzer; and Billy Eichner as an original character, TV news reporter Rob Barker. Also reprising their roles from the original Broadway cast are Kamilah Martin, Judine Somerville, and Shayna Steele as the Dynamites. Also be on the lookout for cameo appearances by Ricki Lake and Marissa Jaret Winokur.
Following in the footsteps of Grease: Live, this will be the first NBC musical to be incorporating a live studio audience. It will also be taking place on the backlots of Universal Studios in Hollywood, even featuring more outdoor scenes than Grease: Live. The adaptation Harvey Fierstein wrote for tonight's telecast will actually be more faithful to the Broadway show than the 2007 film adaptation. Though it will be incorporating a couple of the songs from the film. 'Ladies Choice' will be sung by Corny Collins and 'Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)' will be used as a duet between Jennifer Hudson and Ariana Grande during the curtain call. I hope everyone has a great time tuning into the show tonight! Even if something goes wrong during the telecast, here's one thing we still know for sure, YOU CAN'T STOP THE BEAT!