Now four years into this holiday tradition, it feels strange to call NBC’s annual live musical broadcast an “experiment,” but that’s what it started as, and for better or worse, it’s maintained that spirit…
In many ways, that’s a good thing. When art becomes formulaic, it ceases to be art, and before I really get into my review let me say: There is no bigger fan that the live musical performance tradition than me. I love them, warts and all. Still…with three live performances under their belt, I think it’s fair to expect a pretty polished finished product.
This go-round, NBC definitely took a few notes from “Grease Live” with the move to L.A., the mix of outdoor and indoor sets, the live audience, and the effort was noted, but the implementation was clunky at times, and downright jarring at others.
I’m not referring to the technical snafus of the evening—failing microphones, missed light cues, and an overheard stage direction (30 seconds)…to name a few. Mishaps like that are part of the excitement of live theater, and what make these live broadcasts fun.
The truly odd parts of the telecast came from, what I presume were camera choreography choices, namely: bizarre camera cuts to way too many cameras which made for really jumpy scenes in some cases and strange transitions in others.
But most of all (and I love Darren Criss to death, so it hurts me to say this) the sideline reporting was obnoxious and broke up an already choppy telecast even more.
Having said that, sticking with this uber-segmented telecast was well worth it for the musical numbers, particularly Motormouth Maybelle (Jennifer Hudson). The fact that the sheer power of her voice did not take down the sets along with the crew and other cast members is a marvel to me. She sang the crap out of those songs.
In fact, across the board, the musical performances were phenomenal, and a huge standing ovation to newcomer Maddie Baillio (Tracy Turnblad) who sang and acted the crap out of this role while dealing with several microphone outages (during the opening number) and a few lighting situations.
She was joined by Broadway veterans Harvey Fierstein (Edna Turnblad), Martin Short (Wilbur Turnblad), Andrea Martin (Prudy Pingleton), Kristin Chenoweth (Velma Von Tussle), all of whom were the picture of perfection. And the cast was rounded out with even more incredible performances from Derek Hough as Corny Collins, Ephraim Sykes as Seaweed, Ariana Grande as Penny, Dove Cameron as Amber Von Tussle, and the aforementioned Jennifer Hudson.
At the end of the day, NBC is doing an incredible thing with all of these live productions, and the effort should be applauded. In many ways, “Hairspray Live” far exceeded its predecessors. Although each of their live shows hold a special place in my musical theater loving heart, it’s clear to me they still haven’t quite found the right balance for them.
But of course, I’m already starting the countdown to next year and “Bye Bye Birdie.” Seriously. I can’t wait.
Clearly early morning in Baltimore…
It’s adorable…and includes stage directions!