NBC’s ‘Hairspray Live!': Ranking the Performances, Best to Worst
NBC started the trend of live musical entertainment on television and the payoff has been huge for them ever since 2013’s The Sound of Music. It hasn’t gone 100 percent according to plan every time (sorry, Peter Pan fans!), but NBC still stands as the go-to network for the annual holiday live musical event.
Hairspray, a musical which at its core is about civil rights, is NBC’s most modern and notable selection since they started this trend several years ago, and is possibly the best choice for what a divided nation could use during these trying times. So how exactly did the cast of Hairspray Live! do? See below for how we ranked tonight’s musical numbers from the biggest, blondest and most beautiful down to the dimly lit and well … corny. (And make sure to check out the soundtrack!)
"You Can't Stop the Beat" (5/5)
This is what everyone watches Hairspray for: Link (Garrett Clayton) and Tracy (Maddie Baillio) do a pitchy-but-loyal opening verse, until the entire show is STOPPED when Penny Pingleton (Ariana Grande), in a green sequined dress that would make anyone look twice and bump-it in hair, pops out. The dancing is fantastic; so fluid and tight that it makes you want to whip out your can of hairspray and dance with them. Even Edna Turnblad (Harvey Fierstein) still looks FABULOUS in a skin tight red dress. Then Motormouth Maybelle (Jennifer Hudson) arrives, donning a shimmering gold pantsuit like a goddess blessing us mere mortals with her presence. From the clothes to the dancing to the singing, this routine is far and away what Hairspray is all about — and what everyone will be singing come tomorrow.
"I Know Where I've Been" (5/5)
How do you not cry the second Jennifer Hudson opens her mouth? Bringing her Dreamgirls Effie pipes front and center, Hudson’s voice fills the rooms with gravitas and deep, generational emotion, in an intimate setting among the rest of the diverse cast. Her voice is so strong, it’s like thunder filling a crowded room. Hudson does her best performance of this entire show with this song — it's so dramatic, it encapsulates you. I know where I’ve been...and it’s shedding a tear and screaming "YAS!" at my TV screen as she hit the last note with electric soul.
"(The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs" (5/5)
Flaw. Free. Kristin Chenoweth. The stage and screen vet, with her yodeling voice and petite bravado, is a force to be reckoned with, shining through with such intense talent, it’s sickening. It’s almost as if she's been waiting her whole life to play this part, she’s so good. With her blonde locks sprayed atop her head and her small figure poured into a tight lime green dress, Kristin holds the last note like the true curtain closer that she is. This song has always been underrated, but Kristin’s performance makes it one you can no longer forget. And, I mean, she kicked her leg over her head with such ease and hit notes that would make Mariah Carey envious. How can you not stare in awe?
"Come So Far (Got So Far To Go)" (4.5/5)
I swear NBC cast Jennifer Hudson and Ariana Grande for the sole fact they knew that their characters sang a duet in the end. With both of them in their best outfit of the night, Hudson in the gold jumpsuit and Grande in her green dress and white thigh-high pumps (like a sexy green M&M), it's a great way to end the musical on a note of optimism and hope, as all the cast members take their bows after an impressive showcase of musical theater.
"Big, Blonde, and Beautiful" (4.5/5)
Is there anything that Jennifer Hudson can’t do? She brings some funky soul to the show with an effortless swing of her hips, looks fantastic and gives Queen Latifah a run for her money as Motormouth. Hearing Jennifer Hudson sing "Big, Blonde, and Beautiful” is like attending church and being touched by the Lord. Her pipes are awe-inspiring. She could sing the phone book, and it would still slay the house down. She inspires a march down the streets of Baltimore from her vocals alone, but anyone with half a brain would follow her to the end of the Earth.
"Run and Tell That!" (4/5)
This song brings the soul that the show lacks in its first half, and really allows Seaweed (Ephraim Sykes) to steal the stage for the first time. You can see Ariana sweating a little bit. She's feeling him. It doesn’t last long, because Inez (Shahidi Wright Joseph) comes in and steals the show away just as quickly. In any other production, this is a hit-or-miss song, but the energy is so electric (and Sykes' Seaweed is so mesmerizing) that you cannot help but dance right along with the Baltimore kids.
"Good Morning Baltimore" (4/5)
It’s hard to not instantly smile once you see that coiffed, immobile hair with the little red bow. Newcomer Maddie Baillio exudes the same childhood optimism as that of Tracy in the Broadway rendition and the movie as she dances down the streets of Baltimore. The attention to detail is crazy: between the poodle skirts and the '50s car, it’s remarkable how much attention went into transforming a studio lot into a past version of Baltimore. Though Maddie sounds great, it’s her AMAZING transformation into good ol’ Tracy, a true to form match, that really shines. Her introduction to the world, as well as the Hairspray stage, is a wonderful way to start the show with a smile and a bounce in your step.
A shining moment for the bitchy ice queen of the whole show: Amber (Dove Cameron) is the breakout star of the whole night, stealing the attention instantly from anyone else the second she hits her mark. She nails the perfect blend of bubblegum and Regina George meanness in a shining moment for a character who is otherwise just an antagonist. The only complaint? It was too brief. All I want in life is more Queen Cameron now.
"Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now" (4/5)
Ariana and Dove give me goosebumps. It’s no surprise Ariana’s vocal chops shine in this number, seeing her past experience on Victorious (and, you know, being a newly nominated GRAMMY artist and all). Dove Cameron, who also has singing experience under her belt, adds a perfectt tone and an icy smile to the whole production. She's emerging as the early favorite. Unfortunately, against these vocal heavyweights, Maddie falters a little bit, but the harmonies would still make Fifth Harmony jealous. It’s a nice, breezy number that helps chug the show along with a little extra hairspray.
"I Can Hear the Bells" (3.5/5)
You can tell as the night progressed, Maddie rid herself of her nerves. She sings and flirts and chews the scenery like a true leading lady, which is a commendable act seeing as how she has to stare into the eyes of tween dream Garrett Clayton, who may or may not be a living doll. Every production number is so meticulously planned, it’s a miracle Maddie can still sing every note with such fun energy. "Bells" is an iconic number, pulled off without a hitch, making the baby gays all across the land ache to hold Link’s hand while walking down the aisle.
"It Takes Two" (3.5/5)
Garrett, being the little Ken doll dreamboat in a royal blue suit he is, pulls off the role of Link effortlessly. Hearing him sing also begs the question: Why'd they give "Ladies’ Choice" to Corny Collins (Derek Hough)? Clayton is superior, and definitely made the girls and gays watching from their couch swoon. The gentle number slows things down a notch, allowing the chemistry to form between Link and Tracy.
"Without Love" (3.5/5)
Another great and recognizable song! Link’s ode to Tracy and her curves is so sweet, it almost hurts — regardless of the fact that they’re singing to each other through prison bars like a '60s version of Romeo and Juliet. The best part of this song is that it also gives Ariana Grande a moment to shine. Arguably the most vocally blessed individual (other than the heaven-sent Jennifer Hudson), Ari's talent is so strong, especially when she sings an octave or two lower than her normal baby girl voice. The track concludes in the streets in a giant cast dance-along, as all the pieces finally seem to fit together and love conquers all — even prisoners and racist mothers in downtown Baltimore.
"Welcome to the '60s" (3/5)
Harvey Fierstein sounds like he eats cigarettes for breakfast and cigars for dinner, but as Edna Turnblad, he’s a vision. Watching him ride down the fictional streets of Baltimore atop a hot dog cart as if he was on top of a Thanksgiving Day Parade float is a sight to be seen. Mr. Pinky (Sean Hayes) pops in as the shop owner, looking just as zany as one would hope. The fashion in this number is exquisite, with the red sequined dresses almost stealing the entire show out from under the cast. But it’s when Edna and Tracy come out in a sparkly bathrobe MuMu combo, complete with furry cuffs Cookie Lyon would be proud of, that the number comes to a beautifully weird apex, instilling the want in many kids watching at home to don their glitziest garb and dance in the streets.
"The Nicest Kids in Town" (2.5/5)
Derek Hough assumes the role that hottie James Marsden did in the 2007 film, with Dove Cameron and Garrett Clayton as his background dancers. It’s no surprise that Derek is an amazing dancer, but the biggest surprise is that he brings the talk show swagger with him, along with a pretty solid singing voice — far better than could have been expected. The dancing here is really what shines through: it could rival any stage production.
"Ladies' Choice" (2.5/5)
A song that is usually sung by Link is, for some reason, being sung by Corny Collins — which might only be because Derek Hough is more famous than Garret Clayton. Again, Derek can surprisingly hold his own vocally, but it still lacks something that can’t really be placed (cough, Zac Efron, cough). He also sounds VERY out of breath this time around, to the point where it’s almost distracting. It’s not bad, but it’s also not very good, and for Corny’s stolen solo, it’s a bit of a let down and not really a choice any lady would likely make.
"Velma's Revenge" (2/5)
Another K-Chenoweth song! She sings it to a mirror. It's still a show stopper. Her talent is so undeniable, it hurts. The only complaint is that this song is only a minute long...and over before it really begins.
"Good Morning Baltimore (Reprise)" (2/5)
Another song too short to even matter. Tracy sounds nice, even when singing from the confines a dingy jail cell. It’s almost sweet, until you realize she’s singing it to lowkey-racist Link, but it provides Tracy with a nice little moment of self-reflection, no matter how minute.
"(It’s) Hairspray" (1.5/5)
It’s another song spearheaded by Derek Hough, which is to say…it’s just like the other songs. It has the same look and same feel as all his other numbers. There’s a little kick line towards the end which is cute, but otherwise, it’s boring — and NBC could have cut this to include "The New Girl In Town," which is a travesty.
"(You’re) Timeless to Me" (1/5)
Does anyone ever really look forward to watching Tracy’s parents sing a love song to each other? Martin Short (as Wilbur Turnblad) is no singer, but his comedic prowess brings a certain fun to a lovable duet. Harvey still sounds like he swallows cheese graters and needs about a thousand chamomile teas, but that's never going to change. In a song where he’s half of center stage however, it’s irritating, like a terrible dye job. "Timeless" is like having your parents chaperone your prom and then seeing them to go the center of the dance floor for a slow dance: uncomfortable.
See Photos of the Whole Hairspray Live! Cast: