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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Hairspray Live! is a star-studded TV production of the popular Broadway show Hairspray. The story is set in early 1960s Baltimore, with racial segregation the law of the land until a valiant group of teens stands up against the status quo. As such, there is a fair amount of stereotyping for most of the story and a wonderful message of inclusion by the end. Plus-size Tracy Turnblad also is the subject of quips from judgmental teens and adults, but it plays to her favor because of her ability to turn a blind eye to such unwarranted criticism and only see the best in herself and in her friends on both sides of the color divide. Frequent sexual innuendo likely will go over young kids' heads, but tweens and definitely teens will pick up on allusions to concepts such as sleeping your way to success (a woman mentions screwing the judges to win a pageant, for instance), teen pregnancy, and going "all the way," as well as some physical contact among teens. Also expect some language ("damn," "ass," and "hell") and incorporated advertising for sponsors.
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What's the story?
HAIRSPRAY LIVE! stars newcomer Maddie Baillio as plucky Tracy Turnblad, a high school student with dreams of stardom beyond her humble beginnings. To that end, she auditions for a local TV show, where she's roundly mocked for her generous size by the show's star, Amber (Dove Cameron), and her mother/producer, Velma Von Tussle (Kristin Chenoweth). But when Tracy befriends an African-American classmate named Seaweed (Ephraim Sykes), he inspires her to stand up and be noticed, which lands her the coveted spot on Corny Collins' (Derek Hough) show and brings her toe-to-toe in a popularity contest with Amber. Finding support from Seaweed's mom, Motormouth Maybelle (Jennifer Hudson); her best friend, Penny (Ariana Grande); and her quirky parents, Edna (Harvey Fierstein) and Wilbur (Martin Short), Tracy sets out to change her future ... and the world while she's at it.
Is it any good?
This is an impressive, jubilant production of a story that's rich in messages about diversity, inclusion, and loving yourself. Baillio more than holds her own among a cast of A-listers, belting out solos with confidence that belie her inexperience on a big stage. Those surrounding her seem to be angling to outdo one another with exceptional performances, leaving the audience hard-pressed to identify a favorite. The choreography is intricate, the sets grandiose (including challenging outdoor scenes), and the story evolving at a breakneck pace, leaving you with the desire to watch it again to make sure you don't miss anything.
That said, Hairspray Live! dabbles in content that's a little more mature than what families came to know in NBC's previous Broadway productions, The Sound of Music Live! and The Wiz Live!. For one, segregation is on full display in many scenes, with everything from a physical barrier to cutting stereotypes separating blacks and whites on-screen. For another, there's quite a lot of sexual implication in dialogue from teens and adults alike. But it's still fantastic family fare with exceptional themes that can create powerful family discussions, not to mention one show-stopping performance after another.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the historical value of entertainment such as this. Do you think this story gives a realistic impression of the racial climate of the time and place? Should that be a consideration in a lighthearted production such as this one, or is it OK to take artistic license because of the story's tone?
What unique challenges face the cast and crew of a live televised event? Did you notice any slipups? Did they affect your enjoyment of the show, or did you leave with new respect for the talents on display?
What does this story have to say about body image? Does its message change how you think of your own appearance or those of people you encounter? Besides Tracy, which other characters struggle with their self-esteem? Is this a concern you notice among your peers?
- In theaters: December 7, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: December 20, 2016
- Cast: Ariana Grande, Kristin Chenoweth, Maddie Baillio
- Directors: Kenny Leon, Alex Rudzinski
- Studio: NBC Studios
- Genre: Musical
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, High School, History, Music and Sing-Along
- Character strengths: Courage
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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