By Chinyere Godfrey
Hairspray live is a musical that takes place in Baltimore, in the year 1962. It is about a plus-sized girl, the perfect boy, an ambitious mean girl and an African American boy who struggle together to discover themselves.
Tracy decides to fulfill her long lasting dream: to dance on “The Corny Collins Show,” a local TV program. Though all odds are against her, she qualifies for the role in the show and becomes a celebrity overnight. She meets a colorful array of new characters which includes: perfect boy, Link, ambitious Amber, African American boy, Smooth Seaweed, and last but not least, Motormouth Maybelle, who change her life forever. The conflict is centered around Tracy’s idea to integrate the all-white Corny Collins Show.
It takes place during the time of segregation. Everything was segregated including schools and neighborhoods. In schools, blacks could not dance with white people nor were they allowed to be in the classroom or take the same level of classes. The black and white neighborhoods were not segregated by law, but by social standards, and no one was willing to break that barrier put up by their ancestors.
The themes in this play were present in every aspect of the characters’ lives. Loving oneself was a persistent and universal theme shared by all of the characters. They all had to each go through trials and help each other find themselves. Although loving oneself was the constant theme, to “always be yourself” was the first to be introduced. When Tracy is auditioning for a spot on the local TV show, she is intimidated by Amber and the others causing her to focus on trying to change herself. And to add salt to her wound, her already somewhat diminishing self-confidence decreases more, but fortunately she is able to bounce back. Another major theme was “to always fight for what is right.” It was not fair that the African Americans could not go on the “Corny Collins Show,” so Tracy and her friends constructed a plan to change this situation in spite of the penalties ahead.
Genres of song in the musical include: pop, rock and roll, swing, soul, Broadway, jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel, and traditional pop. They all fit well with the character especially the song genres chosen for Jennifer Hudson because with her voice and character she was able to successfully spread that kind, motherly and unconditional love to all.
Two stand alone songs would have to be “Big Blonde and Beautiful” and “Without Love.” “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” helped emphasize these two themes “to love yourself” and “to be yourself.” Jennifer Hudson–Motormouth Maybelle–poured her soul out into the music which made the song much more soothing to the ear. The song portrayed her as the mother-figure Tracy needed. This song also laid a foundation for Edna, Tracy’s mother who is also plump. After this song, Edna realizes that her body type does not degrade her beauty.
“Without Love” was a great way to express how all four characters (Tracy, Link, Seaweed and Penny, Tracy’s best friend) felt about each other and how segregation affected them. The mix of their lovely voices was not only harmony to the ears, but it was also powerful. They had all come from different backgrounds and experiences, and yet they were able to find a common ground and voice their inner soul.
One set change that stood out was the shifting from the white to the black neighborhood. Even with their limited resources and space, they were able to produce a significant difference between both neighborhoods to show the disparity in wealth and other features.
In all, the variation of setting, music and characters were very interesting. The music added more charisma to the movie and energized the audience after a heart-breaking scene well-played by the characters. The movie entices its audience from the beginning to the end. And lastly, its use of history and segregation gave the play a more realistic feel, while being able to keep the younger audience engaged by highlighting the struggles many till this very day can relate to like racism and self image. It was ahead of its time in the sense that it made everyone take a step towards integration and a step back from segregation.