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When the movie came out in July, the big news was that John Travolta had the role of Tracy's zaftig mom Edna. (Divine played Edna in the Waters film; Harvey Fierstein was the first to do it on Broadway.) Travolta is swell, executing dextrous dance steps in his head-to-toe foam rubber suit. But the star role in Hairspray is Blonsky's (excellent voice and personality, adequate dancer), and it's really an ensemble piece, with nearly a dozen major roles and a mammoth 150 supporting dancers. They do full justice to the Shaiman-Scott Willman score, itself the smartest pastiche of pre-Beatles pop rock since the 1982 off-Broadway Little Shop of Horrors.
Jeffrey Schwarz's and Katy Leigh's expert making-of featurette (actually a feature, at 1hr. 18min.) captures the exhilaration and exhaustion of the enterprise, from the dance rehearsals and the recordings of the perky songs by the cast, a huge orchestra and a 24-voice gospel choir. Shaiman says that the singers referred to the final number, "You Can't Stop the Beat," as "You can't stop to breathe," because there were so many words and so few pauses. But Queen Latifah nailed it on the first take. Growing up spitting out hip-hop lyrics prepares you for anything.
I especially liked Rita Ryack's savvy descriptions of the costumes she designed for the movie. She had fun couturing the frocks for Velma (Pfeiffer), the villain of the piece, and her snooty daughter Amber (Snow): "It just said a lot about Velma and Amber that they would be wearing their mink-trimmed cocktail dresses in the afternoon trying to get Tracy off ÔThe Corny Collins Show.'" Ryack notes that at first wondered where one teen, Penny Pingleton (Bynes), would have got the gown she wears at the end, and decided she must have made from her bedroom curtains. For the bottom of the dress, Ryack says, "we used the valance from the curtains and hung it from these curtain rings." Who would have noticed that clever detail on a first view of the movie? It shows the kind of wit and care that went into the making of the most vigorous, invigorating musical since Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge!