Based on the 2002 musical (that started its pre-Broadway run at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theater), which was based on the 1988 John Waters film, Hairspray follows Waters' original tale of desegregating Baltimore in 1963. It all depends on getting black kids onto The Corny Collins Show, their local version of American Bandstand. In Waters' campy tale, the door gets knocked down by an overweight optimist, Tracy Turnblad, whose plus-size dreams include making out with heartthrob Link Larkin and adding some real color to TV. The subtext of segregation is really what puts this musical over the top, as beating back bigotry never felt this good.
Tracy, played by newcomer Nikki Blonski with the perfect blend of sunny optimism and singing chops, gets all the best numbers, starting out with "Good Morning Baltimore" right through to the ensemble showstopper "You Can't Stop the Beat." (One of the fun features on the Shake & amp; Shimmy Edition, along with two extensive documentaries and one deleted musical number, is the captioning so you can sing along right from the couch.)
Both Michele Pfeiffer, as Velma Von Tussle (played by Debbie Harry in the 1988 film), and Christopher Walken, as Tracy's dorky dad Wilbur, add some unexpectedly great performances. But oddly enough, the film's only weakness is John Travolta as Tracy's mom Edna (played by Divine in the film and by Harvey Fierstein on Broadway). While Travolta's charisma held Grease together, his clunkiness as Edna is a distraction in Hairspray (even though his duet with Walken, "You're Timeless to Me," is quite sweet). Seems like the producers felt like they needed a gimmick to get people out to the theater for this one, when Fierstein would have been perfect for the job. They didn't really need any help; the film has already become one of the biggest grossing musicals of the past 30 years -- not far behind Grease.