Originally written and directed by filmmaker John Waters in 1988, and then put on Broadway, the camp musical HAIRSPRAY could easily have run its course with viewers. But thanks to playful direction, flashy costumes, over-the-top performances, and a positive message of peace, this newest spin proves to be yet another enjoyable incarnation. Set in 1960s Baltimore, the story follows a plump young girl named Tracy Turnblad (played by impressive newcomer Nikki Blonski) on an amazing journey as her dream of dancing on the popular Corny Collins Show becomes a reality. The local television program is a shiny spectacle spear-headed by Corny Collins (James Marsden), a gang of young dancers, and producer Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer), a seductress ice queen whose manipulative ways ensure her daughter Amber (Brittany Snow) gets more than her fair share of screen time as one of the show’s stars. When Tracy shows up at an open call, Velma can barely contain her rage, and sets out to rid the show of Tracy and the talented black dancers who make up the show’s popular "Negro Day." Thus begins a war of talent and a battle for justice, with those in favor of integration meeting many obstacles along the way.
While less out-there than Waters’s original, the film still contains some very quirky humor. John Travolta playing Tracy’s overweight mother may seem an odd concept at first, but in this context it works. Scenes that would ordinarily be cheesy are made more interesting due to the odd dynamic between Christopher Walken and John Travolta playing man and wife. As the two dance and woo one another, the strange smile on Travolta’s lipsticked lips and the grace of Walken’s dancing will be sure to fascinate viewers. Viewers should also watch for cameos by Ricki Lake, and by John Waters as a Baltimore streaker. With all the wacky comedy, it’s often easy to forget that the meat of HAIRSPRAY is a battle over racial integration. The film manages to create some touching moments in the midst of sparkling musical numbers.
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