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Review by Brad Green:
Think of a really bad hair day. One of those days when it looks like youíve emerged from the Freddy Krueger barber shop straight into the teeth of a hurricane. One of those days when a corrective snip by arch-topiarist Edward Scissorhands couldnít provide you with a Jimmy Dean pompadour or Veronica Lake wave (and you start to consider whether the Homer Simpson look might be the best option). One of those days when you peer into the mirror only to find an architectural monstrosity adorning your upper story, and no matter how much wax and gel and magic mousse you apply it simply serves to cement the shambling, spiky asymmetry. Think of one of those days, and youíll understand why this recording fails utterly despite featuring plenty of talent and stylish production.†

Thatís right, a generous application of brylcream isnít much use if you havenít got the follicle fundamentals in place; just the same as no amount of Broadway panache was ever going to rescue this miserable ratís nest of songs. And they are, of course, coated with a deluge of slick. The Great White Way soon blackballs pretenders who canít sing, musos who canít play tight and producers who muddy mixes. Unfortunately, while the singers donít fall flat, the jokes do; the harmonies are far more interesting than the hooks; and the brightly reverberant sound is snazzier than the riffs.†

If you are not familiar, as Iím not, with the original film, youíll find this incoherent drivel makes you none the wiser. Admittedly the lyrics are so awful that I found myself tuning in and out, which probably didnít help the narrative flow, but all I could glean was a jumble about some pudgy teenager (with a bouffant that would turn Marj Simpsonís blue beehive green with envy) trying to win some kind of talent quest, win over narrow-minded, early-1960s Baltimore to racial integration, and ultimately win herself true love. All without winning herself a permanent jail term, which rather improbably does seem to be on the cards.†

This is all relayed to us by Marissa Jaret Winokur in the lead role, mostly by squeaking ďoh oh ohĒ through her nose, which is definitely a throw-away-the-key offence in my book. On the other hand, I hear the Defence asserting that this very technique works wonderfully in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and it is the writing that is really to blame. In fact, Winokur and the rest of the cast bring verve and talent to their irksome roles, and the classy Matthew Morrison particularly impresses. It certainly is a crime to waste his voice on these vacuous ditties and their limp wit: ďLife without love is like rock Ďní roll without a beatĒ -- in contrast to this musical which is rock Ďní roll without a point. The only challenge is to figure out whether the trite doo-wop and retro-pop stylings are failed homage, or feeble parody. Either way they highlight the fact that the genuine models like Grease at least had song-and-story engines worth oiling.†

All the big hair, silly voices, try-hard, cheesy humour, bubble-gum melodies and underwhelming, over-the-top schmaltz might well be intentional and self-aware, but they still combine to provide a gaudy great smack to the ear. If bright neon pink with puce polka dots has a sound, this is it. It doesnít even work as a sugar coated confection: instead of providing a cheap buzz, it merely fizzles out, and despite the garish veneer, the greatest problem is the creativity vacuum. Come to think of it, Iím not sure my original metaphor was quite on the money. The production might feature some awesome on-stage coiffures, but in the originality department it isnít so much a bad hair day as a no hair day. Full marks to the performers for their polish, but there is about as much reward in burnishing this level of banality as there is in emptying a can of hairspray on the pate of Homer Simpson.†

Published June 12, 2003

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TITLE: Hairspray
ID: SK87708
Sony Classical
MUSIC: Marc Shaiman
LYRICS: Marc Shaiman; Scott Wittman
FEATURED PERFORMERS: Marissa Jaret Winokur; Linda Hart; Matthew Morrison; Harvey Fierstein; Mary Bond Davis; Jackie Hoffman; Dick Latessa; Clarke Thorell; Laura Bell

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