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Jewish Journal

‘Hairspray’ style holds up

by Shoshana Lewin-Fischer

July 19, 2007 | 8:00 pm

Director/choreographer/executive producer Adam Shankman on the set of 'Hairspray.' Photo courtesy David James/New Line Cinema

Director/choreographer/executive producer Adam Shankman on the set of 'Hairspray.' Photo courtesy David James/New Line Cinema

There must be something in the water. How else can Hollywood explain the screen-to-stage-to-screen adaptations of "The Producers," the recently announced "Footloose" and, hitting theaters July 20, "Hairspray"?

The film is a big-screen version of the 2002 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical blockbuster, based on John Waters' 1988 cult film. And like the previous versions, the story follows plump teenager Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) and her quest to dance on television in the early 1960s. Because of her size and her views on civil rights, she has a hard time fitting in at school and in life.

Director/executive producer/choreographer Adam Shankman said he, too, had a difficult time, at first, bringing "Hairspray" back to the big screen.

"The hardest part was convincing everybody that I had a solid vision," he said of the stage-to-screen transition. "Plus, I wanted to satisfy the fans of the original and the Broadway show."

Despite some small plot changes among the three versions of "Hairspray," two things are consistent: A man plays Tracy's mother, Edna (a role originated by famous drag queen Divine), and an unknown plays Tracy.

"The audience will not believe that character if they've seen her on a red carpet," Shankman said of the part that helped launch the career of Tracy No. 1, Ricki Lake, and garnered Tracy No. 2, Marissa Jaret Winokur, a Tony Award.

While there was music in the original film, here the songs aren't just for dancing -- they're part of the plot. When a scheming station owner (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) recalls her former days as a beauty queen, composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman, who penned the tunes in the Broadway version, has her sing: "I would say 'oy gevalt' if I wasn't Miss Baltimore Crabs!"

As a love letter to "Hairspray" fans, the film's CD soundtrack includes a special version of "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now." The upbeat number, cut from the movie, becomes an all-Tracy tune for Lake (who has a cameo in the film), Winokur and Blonsky. It also includes a vocal surprise by Edna No. 2: Harvey Fierstein.

In addition to getting Pfeiffer dancing again, director Shankman brought some of John Travolta's signature moves from his "Pulp Fiction" role into his turn as Edna.

Shankman, who grew up in Brentwood and attended Julliard, said he "never had the directing bug" until about seven years ago. The 42-year-old was featured as an up-and-comer in a Journal article when he was 22, before his leap to choreographer ("The Addams Family") and eventually director ("Cheaper by the Dozen 2").

"All of my work ends up being about family -- that's the Jewish part of me," he said.

Composer Shaiman is also known for his versatility, from "Misery" to "When Harry Met Sally." Winokur sang "Hairspray's" peppy opener, "Good Morning, Baltimore" when Shaiman received the Henry Mancini Award at last April's American Society of Composers and Producers Awards. In a Tracy-to-Tracy moment, just prior to the start of the awards, Winokur met Blonsky in the hallway of the Kodak Theater and said that "this would be my swan song," telling Tracy No. 3 that once the film came out, "Baltimore" would be associated with her.

Regardless of who is playing the big girl with the big hair and big dreams, Shankman said there's a special place in his heart for Turnblad: "She's the person I aspire to be. She feels totally with her heart and doesn't understand hatred."
The trailer

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