The re-emergence of live TV musicals has been fun to watch. NBC had the safe-and-solid "Sound of Music," then faltered with "Peter Pan" and bounced back with "The Wiz." Fox triumphed with "Grease," then had a so-so (and not live) "Rocky Horror."
Now comes what seems like the most promising one. "Hairspray" has vibrant music and -- unlike most of the others -- a good story. It plans to sprawl across a movie-studio lot, just as "Grease" did (with the same person doing the TV directing). And it has starpower; here's the story I sent to papers, with glimpses of Ariana Grande, Derek Hough, Jennifer Hudson and, especually, newcomer Maddie Baillio.
By Mike Hughes
When a live
“Hairspray” reaches TV Wednesday, we'll see stars doing some
familiar (or not) things.
Jennifer Hudson and
Kristin Chenoweth will belt; Harvey Fierstein will rasp. We expect
that. But then:
-- Ariana Grande
will mostly be acting, not singing. We don't expect that, but she
says this is the role that pleases “my theater geek inside.”
-- Derek Hough will
often be singing; we don't expect that either. Before “Dancing With
the Stars” brought him back to the U.S., Hough did star in the
“Footlloose” musical in London. “Hairspray,” he said, lets
him “re-ignite that sort of musical passion.”
-- And Maddie
Baillio? We don't expect anything from her ... mostly because we've
never heard of her. She's never had a TV role ... or a professional
theater role. Now she's the star.
Baillio came from
nowhere ... or from League City, Texas, which is just north of
nowhere. “This was my first audition, outside of school .... There
were over 1,300 girls and I was No. 344,” she said.
Still, this is her
second time at winning big. Two years ago, she won Michael
Feinstein's search; she sang at the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center,
even Carnegie Hall. Now it's national TV, working live.
How daunting is
that? Even Jennifer Hudson – an Oscar-winner who's done Broadway
and “American Idol” – said she's nervous. “Just doing the
first (Broadway) opening night was traumatizing to me,” Hudson
said. “So now I'm like, 'Are you crazy? Are you really going to do
this on live television?'”
Now imagine Baillio,
barely out of her teens and following a life-long goal.
“I started doing
community theater and voice lessons when I realized that I wasn't
good at sports,” said Baillio, who grew up in a suburb between
Houston and Galveston. “And I just loved singing.”
She does it well, as
people can find by checking the Internet for Madelyn Baillio. There,
they can see her sing a couple classics ... and can even buy her
single, a lush “Can't Stay Away From You.”
Baillio was named
the 2014 Youth Ambassador for Feinstein's group, the Great American
Songbook. She went to Marymount Manhattan College for two years and
tried the long-shot audition. “I decided at like 3 a.m., the night
before the big open call in New York City, that I was going to go out
and do it.”
She was called back
for four more auditions and then for what she thought was yet
another, with director Kenny Leon and writer-star Harvey Fierstein.
This time time, there was a camera there.
“They told me that
they were doing a behind-the-scenes thing .... Kenny walked into the
room and said, 'Hey, Harvey asked me to give this to you so you can
read it. Project and look into the camera.
“And so I pulled
the paper out and it said, 'Maddie Baillio will be Tracy Turnblad in
NBC's “Hairspray Live!”' And I was so excited and I had to call
my mom immediately.”
This is clearly
worth calling mom about. As Robert Greenblatt, NBC's programming
chief, explains it, “Hairspray” is “a really joyous and funny
show set in Baltimore about a young girl who just wants to dance on
television – and then she unwittingly becomes an advocate for
inclusion and diversity.”
Greenblatt is the
one who brought musicals back to TV with the “Smash” series and
with live shows – triumphing with “Sound of Music,” faltering
with “Peter Pan,” then rebounding with “The Wiz.”
Now he has an ideal
vehicle: “Hairspray” was a 1988 movie, transformed into a 2002
musical by the same songwriters who did “Smash.” It won eight
Tonys, including best musical and ones for Marissa Winokur as Tracy
and Fierstein (in a tradition started by the '88 movie) as her mom.
being awed by the show when she was 10 or 11. “Every time Harvey
speaks, my heart burts.” At 15, she was on Broadway in “13,” an
all-Broadway musical. “Theater is like everything to me,” she
said. “Pop music is so fun, but this is way much more fun.”
version could be. Following the lead of Fox's “Grease” (and using
the same TV director), it will sprawl over the Universal Studios lot.
Mixing in new songs from the 2007 movie, it will let familiar stars
soar and give a new one a chance to emerge.
Live,” 8-11 p.m. Wednesday, NBC; live in Eastern and Central time