It’s been almost 20 years since “Hairspray” the movie - written and directed by John Waters (“Pink Flamingos”) - hit the big screen. The Broadway show, directed by the Old Globe’s Jack O’Brien, won eight Tony Awards in 2003. Since then, touring companies have kept the story of Baltimore’s Tracy Turnblad alive. A big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, Tracy has only one passion - to dance.
Movie fans couldn’t believe their ears when they heard there was going to be another film, and that John Travolta would be playing the show’s lead character, Tracy’s “big” mama Edna. Be not dismayed, folks, for Travolta pulls off the performance well and still has plenty “Saturday Night Fever” jive left to entertain us thoroughly.
Travolta didn’t commit to the part immediately. “For quite a while it was hard for me to grasp the concept of being a leading man for 30 years, and now I am being sought out to play a fat woman from Baltimore,” said Travolta. “But after many, many months of indecision, they successfully convinced me to shake my booty again, but this time as Edna.”
The movie is a full musical with folks bursting into song at every turn, and it follows the stage play almost to a T. It also upholds two traditions of the show -- the role of Tracy Turnblad has always been played by an unknown talent; and the role of Edna Turnblad has always been played by a male actor. Tracy, played reasonably well by newcomer Nikki Blonsky, is a typical teen in the early 60s, and she’s in love with the TV dance program, “The Corny Collins (James Marsden) Show.” The optimistic young girl wants desperately to dance on the show, but she’s not the slim pretty type the show’s executive director Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) thinks the TV audience wants to see.
Despite her girth, Tracy’s parents love her unconditionally. Tracy’s father Wilbur (Christopher Walken) runs a joke shop and Edna takes in laundry. Walken and Travolta play the couple like Lucy and Desi. Lovable and blind to each others faults, the two dance together delightfully several times in the movie.
Tracy gets involved in racial politics when she meets some of the dancers who perform on “The Corny Collins Show’s” Negro Day. She joins Seaweed J. Stubbs (Elijah Kelley), his sister Little Inez (Taylor Parks) and their friends for a protest. Their mother, Motormouth Maybelle, is played with delicious humor by Queen Latifah, and lines such as, “If we get any more white people in here this is gonna be a suburb,” deliver the laughs. Latifah also performs numbers that show off her singing voice.
Pfeiffer plays a sophisticated snob who can’t tolerate that her daughter Amber (Brittany Snow), who has a mad crush on lead dancer of “The Corny Collins Show,” Link (Zac Efron), has been replaced by Tracy, both on the show and in Link’s eyes. Pfeiffer (“The Witches of Eastwick”) is such a great dramatic actress it’s sometimes to easy to forget she’s also excellent at comedy.
Amanda Bynes has a peculiar role as Tracy’s best friend Penny. The comedy quotient is upped even more when Penny’s racial-phobic mother (Allison Janney) discovers Penny and Seaweed are in love.
Director Adam Shankman (“Bringing Down the House”), who also choreographed the show, does a commendable job in keeping the movie moving, funny and entertaining. The musical numbers are never dull, the story never bogs down and the quirky characters are highly amusing.
“Hairspray” is a great movie for the entire family. Two redeeming themes good for kids include the racial conflict and how the underdog comes out on top. And all age groups will love the music. In the show I attended, I saw both young and old viewers tapping their feet and moving their shoulders. There’s certainly nothing stiff about “Hairspray.”