You Can’t Stop the Case

Welcome to the 60’s, Cassettes! Last week, we covered the 1962 musical film, The Music Man! This week, we’re heading to the 1960’s again, but through a film that came out in 2007. Or was it 1988? Discussing movies can get so confusing! 

In July of 2007, the hit Broadway musical Hairspray danced into theaters. It featured the effervescent Tracy Turnblad, a Baltimore teenager longing for her chance in the spotlight. The film boasted bright and bouncy musical numbers, coupled with issues of acceptance and overcoming racial bias. It was an absolute delight; a faithful adaptation with stellar performances from an all-star cast. Much like its Broadway predecessor, it was a critical and commercial success, showing people everywhere that it’s okay to be different. In fact, uniqueness should be celebrated.  

So, get out your cans of hair cement and get those do’s as high as they will go. It’s time to talk about Hairspray! 

QUICK HISTORY OF HAIRSPRAY

  • In order to talk about Hairspray, we’re going to have to head back to the very beginning. Filmmaker John Waters has been producing independent films since he was a teenager in 1960’s Baltimore. Growing up in the area, he was familiar with a program called, “The Buddy Deane Show,” an American Bandstand style show that introduced new music and dance to at-home viewers. 
  • After writing an article about a reunion of the show’s cast, Waters was inspired to write a fictional story about Buddy Deane, set in 1960’s Baltimore, when the show aired. In every film Waters has made up to this point, he featured the actor Harris Milstead, better known by his stage name, Divine. After writing this new screenplay, he asked Divine to appear in the film, and for the first time, he would not have the starring role. 
  • Waters wanted a teenage girl for the lead role of Tracy Turnblad. He held an open call, and cast the then-unknown actress Rikki Lake for the part!
  • After securing other stars like Sonny Bono and Jerry Stiller, Hairspray opened in February of 1988. The film was a success, making John Waters and Rikki Lake a household name. They continued to work together for years afterward, most notably on the film, Crybaby. 
  • In the late 1990’s, producer Margo Lion rented the movie and felt like it was perfect for a musical adaptation. She called up John Waters, who was interested to see how Broadway would interpret his story. They both knew that screen to stage adaptations aren’t always successful, especially when the stage version tries too hard to be the film. Lion wanted to find a way to make a musical that could stand on its own, while still holding onto the heart and soul of the original.
  • Lion tapped composer and songwriter Marc Shaiman, who agreed to the project if his partner Scott Wittman could pen the lyrics. After their songs got John Waters’ stamp of approval, the team pushed forward, securing writer Thomas Meehan (who wrote the book for Annie) and director Rob Marshall (who was also working on the film Chicago at the time.) 
  • For the lead, Marshall (who would later be replaced by director Jack O’Brien) chose Marissa Jaret Winokur, who would go on to win a Tony for the role. In the spirit of the original, the producers decided that they should cast a man for the part of Edna Turnblad. They chose the legendary Harvey Fierstein, who continued on Divine’s legacy as well as anyone could. 
  • The musical opened to rave reviews, winning 8 Tony awards! After 5 years, the musical would be adapted to film, this time with Nikki Blonsky in the role. 

John Waters said of the 2007 film, “I’m proud that I thought up something in my bed in my crummy old apartment… that I certainly think will make Nikki a star,” says Waters, “the way the first movie made Ricki a star and the musical made Marissa a star.”

SYNOPSIS

  • The “Corny Collins Show” in Baltimore is having auditions, and despite being overweight, Tracy Turnblad has her heart set on becoming one of the stars! Using some dance moves she learned from a new friend, Seaweed, she is able to earn a spot in the show and become an overnight sensation. Her father even helps keep her in the spotlight by selling Tracy branded merchandise at his joke shop! As Tracy navigates her new position in the group, she strives to change the popular structure set in place by using her platform to integrate “The Corny Collins Show.” 

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • After producing the wildly successful and heavily awarded Chicago, Craig Zadan and Niel Meron wanted to work on another musical. They had previously worked on projects like “Footloose,” “Gypsy,” and the 1997 Wonderful World of Disney CLASSIC “Cinderella.” 
  • Once the producers were tied to the project, they chose Adam Shankman to direct. Shankman had made films like, “The Wedding Planner” and “A Walk To Remember.” Shankman was not the project’s first pick, as the studio had first tried to get both Jack O’Brien and Rob Marshall, which didn’t work out due to scheduling conflicts. 
  • Adam Shankman has a personal connection to Hairspray. He knew the original songwriters, and was even around when they were writing the tunes for the Broadway show. He attended Hairspray’s opening night on Broadway as well. Because of this Shankman begged to be a part of the production, but was turned down. He was crushed. His agent convinced him to try again, and Shankman said he would only meet with the filmmakers if he was guaranteed to get it. Thankfully, the producers ultimately decided Shankman was perfect for the job. 
  • John Waters gave Shankman advice on how to direct the film. He told Collider about the exchange, saying that: “John Waters, when I first got the movie said, ‘I’m so excited for you, you’re such a fabulous choice for this.’ And I was like, ‘Thought bubble, question mark, what?’ And he said, ‘My only advice to you is you have to do your own thing; you can’t do what I did, don’t do what they did. This story only works if it’s told from a really personal perspective, so don’t try to – in this case, imitation will not be flattery for you, so just go for it.’”
  • Screenwriter Leslie Dixon adapted the story from the stage. She has also written the screenplay for some other known movies such as The Thomas Crown Affair, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Runaway Bride.
  • Once the movie began taking shape investors were needed and the majority that helped fund the movie came from China. In order to draw in these investors (and audiences!) the studio needed a big name. They decided this big name would be John Travolta, the once crowned prince of movie musicals. Although he had not done a musical in 30 years, they knew he would draw the crowds. Travolta, famous for his long deliberations for roles, was hesitant and made the filmmakers wait over a year before making a decision. Travolta in a New York Times interview after being asked about his hesitation said that, “Playing a woman attracted me, playing a drag queen did not. The vaudeville idea of a man in a dress is a joke that works better onstage than it does on film, and I didn’t want any winking or camping. I didn’t want it to be ‘John Travolta plays Edna.’ That’s not interesting. It had to be something I could go all the way with, disappear in, like I did in the Bill Clinton role in ‘Primary Colors’ or in ‘Saturday Night Fever.” When he finally agreed to the part he had one condition, that Christopher Walken play Wilbur so that he was not the only known star in the film. He also wanted an Academy Award winner to play his husband. 
  • How Nikki got the role of Tracy Turnblad
    • There is something magical about finding a fresh face for a starring role. Shankman and the casting director, David Rubin, decided that an open call was best for finding the star for the role of Tracy Turnblad. A few reasons guided them to this decision, because not only were there no overweight teenage movie stars, the first two girls cast as Tracy were unknown actresses. 
    • In each city there were about 300-500 girls to audition! 
    • In open calls you want to keep your ears and mind open to all possibilities so it is hard to immediately say, “yes, this is the person.” Even though they received Nikki Blonsky’s tape early they kept searching, but kept coming back to her. Nikki worked at a Cold Stone Creamery and when they decided to break the news they told her that the director wanted to meet with all the finalists virtually.  When Shankman popped up on her screen he told her to make herself an ice-cream cone because she got the part!! 

MUSIC AND SONGS

  • MUSIC
    • So, the original 1988 film was not a musical, shocking I know! So when Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman sat down to watch the film, they were inspired by various lines and the tone of the film, to write several songs that captured the story and spirit of Tracy Turnblad and 1960’s Baltimore. 
    • Since the film is an adaptation of the musical, it’s structure is a little different. It focuses more on the story, and some of the songs were dropped. While the production lost songs like, “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,” “The Big Dollhouse,” and “Cooties,” it gained songs like, “The New Girl in Town” and “Ladies’ Choice!”  
  • SO, LET’S TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE SONGS IN THE FILM!
    • Good Morning Baltimore
      • This is the bombastic opening number that incorporates the sounds of 1960’s pop. It starts with an attention-grabbing drum beat, mixed with the peppy vocals of Nikki Blonsky.  
      • Shaiman and Wittman took inspiration from “Oklahoma!” as that musical opens with the number, “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin!’” They wanted the story to welcome the audience and set the tone, as Tracy happily exclaims, “Good Morning, Baltimore!”
      • In this scene, John Waters makes a cameo appearance as “The flasher who lives next door.” The song is funny, and perfectly paints Tracy as the lovable optimist, who sees every day as a new opportunity to make her dreams come true.
    • The Nicest Kids in Town
      • This song introduces Corny Collins, the show that would be the focal point of the film. It’s a snarky song that pokes fun at ensemble shows of the 1960’s era, like The Mickey Mouse Club and of course, “American Bandstand.”
        • “Nice *white* kids who lead the way…” 
    • It Takes Two
    • (The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs
      • The filmmakers intended to replace this song, and several new tunes were written for this purpose. Michelle Pfieffer actually spoke up, and felt that none of the replacement songs gave her character the same amount of depth as “Miss Baltimore Crabs.” So, it stayed in the film!
    • I Can Hear the Bells
      • This is the moment when Tracy falls in love with Link. It perfectly captures the magic of a teen girl’s fantasy and depicts how people can read too much into only a small encounter. This scene sets up the idea that Tracy and Link’s relationship may just be a fantasy, but the film turns that expectation on its head when Link falls in love with her as well.
    • Ladies’ Choice
      • This song was written just for the film, and was a show-off number for Zac Efron’s Link Larkin. 
      • The song was inspired by the sounds of Elvis, obviously style icon for Link as well and popular singer in the 1960’s.
    • The New Girl in Town
      • This song was written for the original musical, but not used in the production. Shaiman added it back into the movie as a song sung on The Corny Collins Show. It worked perfectly as a way to show the culture of the show, and the contrast between the segregated white and black casts.
      • It also frames Amber’s jealousy for Tracy in a clever tune sung in-universe. 
    • Welcome to the 60’s
      • This song is like a coming-out party for Edna’s character, as Tracy convinces her to leave the house for the first time. It reminds the audience that even though these characters don’t have to deal with the nightmare of racism, they struggle with how society perceives them as overweight women.
      • This scene also features the wonderful Jerry Stiller, who played Tracy’s father in the 1988 film! 
      • “People who are different, their time is coming” 
    • Run and Tell That
      • This song is another big number, showcasing the vocal talents of Seaweed (played by Elijah Kelly). Like the other character-driven songs of the musical, this song has a distinct musical style and has elements of R&B. It’s an ubeat look at Seaweed’s perspective, and leads him to inviting the girls to his mother’s record store.  
      • It introduces Seaweed’s younger sister, Lil Inez, and it’s the first time Penny takes notice of her love-interest. As of this time, Penny and Seaweed’s relationship would be illegal. 
    • Big, Blonde, and Beautiful
      • This song has three different perspectives, and cleverly shows the personality and motives of three different female characters. Initially it’s a song sung by Maybelle, but then it is the song that represents Edna becoming more comfortable with her body. Of course, it’s also the song that Velma sings as she intends to seduce Mr. Turnblad. 
      • “Big is back, and as for black, it’s beautiful” 
    • (You’re) Timeless to Me
      • This is the classic number that showcases John Travolta and Christopher Walken’s voices. Travolta was hesitant to take the role since it had been many years since he had starred in a musical, and Christopher Walken isn’t known for his musical abilities. The two make a perfect pair as they sing about each others’ timelessness. 
    • I Know Where I’ve Been
      • The biggest, most heartfelt, and show-stopping song of the musical goes to Motormouth Maybelle. Maybelle is an emotional anchor throughout the story, as she fights for equality on the Corny Collins Show and in life. 
      • In a musical filled with fun, bouncy songs, this ballad lands perfectly with the audience. While Tracy is fighting for integration, this moment isn’t about her. It’s a chance for the audience to really hear Maybelle’s perspective as a black woman in the 1960’s. 
    • Without Love
      • In this song, Zac Efron was forced to make-out with a photo of Nikki Blonsky. Apparently, he had to do that for several takes. 
      • This is the sweet song about young love, and finally unites the two major couples: Tracy and Link and Seaweed and Penny. 
      • Both sets of couples have their challenges, as the group must work to break Tracy out of prison and into the Miss Teenage Hairspray competition. 
    • (It’s) Hairspray
    • You Can’t Stop the Beat
      • The singers referred to this song as, “You can’t stop to breathe,” because there were so many words and so few pauses. Since Queen Latifah was used to performing as a rap artist, she nailed it on the first take. 
      • Rita Ryack (the costume designer) remembers that she at first wondered how Penny Pingleton would get the gown she wears in this final number. Rita decided Penny would have had to make it from her bedroom curtains. For the bottom of the dress, the valance from the curtains were used and hung from the curtain rings.
        • This pays homage to The Sound of Music!
    • Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)
      • An original song for the film, this played at the beginning of the credits with Nikki Blonsky, Queen Latifah, and Zac Efron
    • Marc Shaiman worked the song, “Cooties” into the theme music during the “Miss Hairspray” competition part of the film.
  • Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now was a song that was cut from the production, but it was re-recorded for the film’s soundtrack and credits with all three Tracy Turnblads! Rikki Lake, Marissa Winokur, and Nikki Blonsky all participated.

CAST

  • John Travolta as Edna Turnblad
    • He is of course known for another musical movie, Grease, but also Pulp Fiction and Saturday Night Fever.
    • Edna Turnblad is traditionally played by a man in drag. This tradition began with Divine in the original 1988 film.
  • Christopher Walken as Wilbur Turnblad
    • He has been in such movies as Catch Me If You Can, Pulp Fiction, and Balls of Fury.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer as Velma Von Tussle
    • She has been in Scarface, Batman Returns, Grease 2, and Stardust.
  • Amanda Bynes as Penny Pingleton
    • We of course remember Amanda Bynes from All That and The Amanda Show. She has also been in She’s the Man and Easy A.
  • Allison Janney as Prudy Pingleton
    • She has appeared in movies like The Way Way Back and 10 Things I Hate About You. She has also starred in tv shows like The West Wing and the sitcom Mom.
  • James Marsden as Corny Collins
    • He has been in Enchanted, 27 Dresses, X-Men, and Sonic the Hedgehog (2020.)
  • Queen Latifah as Motormouth Maybelle
    • She is known for Chicago, Taxi, Last Holiday, and many more.
  • Brittany Snow as Amber Von Tussle
    • She is known for the Pitch Perfect Movies,Prom Night, and John Tucker Must Die. Robin and Marci also remember her on American Dreams! Which is of course about a 1960’s Band Stand.
  • Elijah Kelley as Seaweed
    • He was in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Take the Lead, and the live taping of The Wiz.
  • Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad
    • Nikki has been in the movies Waiting for Forever, Queen Sized, and Geography Club.
    • According to IMDB Blonsky still turns up at her former employer, which at one point introduced a new creation — Color Me Cotton Candy — in Blonsky’s honor.
  • Tayla Parx as Little Inez
    • She has been in a few things but she is a really talented songwriter and artist. She has written for many well known artists such as Ariana Grande, Nikki Minaj, Alicia Keys, and Fifth Harmony!
  • Jerry Stiller as Mr. Pinky
    • In the original 1988 film, Stiller played Wilbur Turnblad!
    • Stiller is known well for his parts in Seinfeld, Zoolander, Heavyweights, The King of Queens, and many more.
  • ANNNNND… Link played by Zac Efron
    • Known of course for Highschool Musical before this, but also has been in 17 Again and Neighbors.
    • Luckily Zac Efron favored this project over the 2006 High School Musical tour! His dubber from the first HSM movie, Drew Seeley, stood in Efron’s place on the tour.

AWARDS/ HOW IT WAS RECEIVED

  • Hairspray had a budget of about $75 million and had a US Gross of almost $119 million! 
  • After the success of Chicago, Hollywood was interested in adapting musicals again. Films like Phantom of the Opera, Rent, and The Producers weren’t doing well at the box office. When Hairspray came out, it was the tenth movie musical to ever make 100$ million dollars domestically! Some of the other films that passed that mark were, “The Sound of Music” and “Grease.” as well as such animated musicals as “The Lion King” and “Aladdin.”
  • According to New Line, the audience split has been about 65% female and 35% male.
    • Some of that 65% was us! Marci and Robin saw this film when it came out, with Robin’s mom. 
  • The movie was nominated for three golden globes, a BAFTA, and a SAG award. 

In 1988, 2002, and 2007, Hairspray was simultaneously ahead of its time and timeless. It’s a story created by, and for people who feel like outsiders. It cast a man in drag in a major role, starting a musical tradition that lasted through every other adaptation of the story. Hairspray explores fat phobia and racial injustice in a meaningful way. It’s a story with a message for everyone, but especially the people that don’t feel like they have a place in this world. Not only do we have a place, the world will be better the more we embrace our authentic selves and everyone else around us.

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

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