By Allison O’Reilly

In general, I’m skeptical of the new trend of bringing Broadway shows to TV screens because this usually means putting screen stars to the task of live performance, which often falls flat.

“Hairspray Live!,” which aired Dec. 7 on NBC, was not only fun but very refreshing, especially in a tense time for race relations in America. For those who are unfamiliar – “Hairspray” is a story that takes place in 1962 Baltimore following plus-sized high school student Tracy Turnblad, played by Maddie Baillio, who defies all odds by scoring a spot on the after-school entertainment program, “The Corny Collins Show.” Instead of just reveling in her newfound fame, Tracy uses her new platform to integrate the show.

Baillio was the special’s breakout star, performing alongside pop-music icon Ariana Grande and Broadway giants Harvey Fierstein and Kristin Chenoweth. Her portrayal of Tracy was near perfect, and her vocals shined through the bright stars around her.

Jennifer Hudson, who took on the role of Motormouth Maybelle, the black DJ and star of

“The Corny Collins Show” monthly “Negro Day” event, brought tears to my eyes with her performance of the moving “I Know Where I’ve Been.”

The song is about the harms of segregation and the hope Maybelle has, so it’s already packed full of emotion. Hudson’s performance was something special and much needed, especially in the wake of the current Dylann Roof trial and the closing of the Walter Scott trial – two examples showing that race relations are far from perfect in America today.

The unconventional relationships in the musical were perhaps the happiest aspect. For example, Tracy and heartthrob Link Larkin (Garrett Clayton), the interracial love between Penny Pingleton (Grande) and Seaweed J. Stubbs (Ephraim Sykes) and the aging, but passionate marriage between Tracy’s parents, Edna (Fierstein) and Wilbur (Martin Short).

“Without Love,” performed by Clayton, Baillio, Grande and Sykes was a declaration between the characters that even though their relationships are unconventional, they know life is dull without love. Grande’s vocals were the shining star of this performance – her powerful voice pairing nicely with Penny who finally broke free of her shy exterior and accepteding her attraction to Seaweed.

Fierstein and Short stole the show, however, with their outstanding, hilarious and touching performance of “(You’re) Timeless to Me.” The duo was “relationship goals” in that even though they’re getting old, fat and bald, they were more in love with and attracted to each other than ever. Fierstein, who got to revive his Tony-award-winning performance of Edna in this TV adaptation of “Hairspray,” proved he’s still got it.

“Hairspray Live!” was big and bold with a talented, star-studded cast that did a phenomenal job of making this old show important and relevant again in a very divided America.

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Facebook Live’s Facebook page.

Allison O’Reilly is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at aoreill1@terpmail.umd.edu. 

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