“Hairspray 2” takes on the swinging ’60s

A bit of musical theater advice: If you live in or near New York or are planning to visit in the next month, and you have not seen Hairspray on Broadway, now is the time. The six-and-a-half year Broadway run ends on Jan. 4, 2009. To send it out in style, Harvey Fierstein is reprising his role as Edna Turnblad, and Marissa Jaret Winokur, the original Broadway Tracy Turnblad, returns next week to close out the show.

However, it seems the end of the Broadway run won’t stop the beat. Apparently, we can expect Hairspray 2: Electric Boogaloo in 2010. According to Adam Shankman, director of the movie version of the Broadway musical (not to be confused with the original John Waters film), there’s a concept and an outline, and it’s “going out to writers.”

In the Hairspray sequel, Tracy (Nikki Blonsky) and company will deal with the next wave of ’60s music and ’60s politics, and Link (Zac Efron) will “channel his inner Austin Powers.”

My first reaction is pretty much summed up in an article I found titled, “Hairspray 2: Why, God, Why?

Is a sequel really a good idea? Have there been any good movie musical sequels? The Disney musical sequels have all gone direct to video. Did The Muppet Movie sequels even have songs? And as much as I love Grease 2 — and I love it very, very much — I would never argue that it’s actually a good movie.

But I’m trying to keep an open mind. John Waters is involved, as is Queen Latifah. More importantly, it appears that John Travolta will not be back doing his stupid Baltimore-accent-method-acting and not understanding that the role needs a touch of drag sensibility.

If the musical team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman return, there’s hope that the movie could prove not to be a colossal mistake. But that’s a very low standard, and I fear the worst. The movie musical of Hairspray was entertaining and good enough but, unlike the original movie and Broadway musical, it was not great.

The original movie was brilliant. It had the John Waters characters and camp sensibility, but went mainstream by losing Waters’ characteristic over-the-top grossness.

The Broadway musical retained most of the camp and enhanced it with music that was a perfect blend of showtunes and ’60s pop. The movie musical kept most of the music but lost the camp, and that was a big loss.

First, there was the John Travolta problem. And, compounding that, there was a shift towards earnestness in many of the other characters. The only characters that really retained the little bit of larger-than-life drag-queeniness that usually inhabits most of John Waters’ characters were Allison Janney’s Prudie Pingleton and Christopher Walken’s Wilbur Turnblad. The campiest song in the show — the jailhouse number “Big Dollhouse” — was cut, and the campiest moment that remained was the three Tracys (Ricki Lake, Marissa Jaret Winokur and Nikki Blonksy) singing “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” over the closing credits.

So, I’m not feeling optimistic that Hairspray is going in the right direction. I guess all I can do is hope fervently that one of the best new musicals of the last decade will not morph into High School Musical 4: The ’60s.

Are there other Hairspray fans out there? What do you think of this development?