Monday, 21 July 2008

REVIEW: "Singalonga Hairspray"


When the RZ saw Ricky Lake shouting this at the TV in high school, he developed an affinity for the Pope of Trash and Baltimore city: any place with this many freaks and weirdos running around MUST be somewhere worth living.

Meanwhile, what started as a campy tribute to The Sound of Music has become a full-fledged business with a number of offshoot titles including Joseph, ABBA, and now Hairspray: the evil remake.

Evil remake, you say? Yes, the RZ finds this film redo of the stage redo of John Waters’ 1988 tale of lovably large ladies in 1960’s Baltimore evil for a number of reasons, least of which the production’s decision to snub Baltimore city itself (where the RZ lived at the time of filming) - an action which caused most if not all of the RZ’s friends to avoid the initial release altogether. The casting of John Travolta as Edna was neither inspired nor comforting, but merely creepy: his head would move but his fat suit wouldn’t, and his mannerisms and accent had neither Divine’s authenticity in the original nor Harvey Feierstein’s warmth, emotion, and wit from the Broadway production.

As far as the trademarked Singalonga experience, it’s a mixed bag. Yes, it’s fun to sing and dance along to the film with 400+ other fans but it also takes on the impression of a bad panto at times, with lame “hold up and turn this card” actions and prescribed callbacks. Treating the film like MST3K or Rocky Horror (another Singalonga product, theirs being the only version in London) with eternal catcalls of increasing rudeness would likely get one attacked by the rabid fangirls in attendance.

The instruction realm takes a painfully long amount of time to clear as well. Unlike in good panto where you get the callbacks as you go or Rocky Horror where you pick them up or improvise, Singalonga smacks you across the face with a 30 minute introduction. The RZ took notes on his shiny new iPhone throughout and will now post his thoughts below:

-They’re playing the OBCR before it starts, not the film OST.
-If you’re going to charge £14.50 for a ticket, don’t show a full set of adverts.
-A hon with an Essex accent is hosting and it doesn’t work.
-They want us to dance along besides singing.
-The press (spec. Mark Shenton of The Stage and his two companions) are the only ones not standing up.
-For Motormouth Maybelle, we’re supposed to make a sound like a sexy pussycat on a motorbike.
-This prompting is like Hairspray: The Panto
-14:17 (started at 14:00) enough prompt commands start the damn film
-Party popper? Fabric strand? These are missing from the RZ’s prop goodie bag.
-And now a cosplay contest.
-The costume standards for the kids are not on par with Lil’ Miss Hon at Honfest.
-Host to catgirl: “Are you at the wrong film?”
-Adults all fail vs. Miss Hon, but darned if they aren’t trying.
-14:30 still more prompting info
-14:35 film finally starts
-Interval after “Welcome to the 60’s”, Mark Shenton flees with his two guests.

As far as the film itself, besides the generic backgrounds (no Baltimore landmarks are shown, such as the Washington Monument, Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus, nor any street signs) it’s close enough to pass as Bawlmer for non-Baltimorons, but so much of it felt like the production team wanting to make changes so that it was THEIR film and THEIR version. Tracy doesn’t go to jail here, a major plot point in the prior versions, which lessens the finale’s impact, “Big Blonde and Beautiful” doesn’t hold the punch it does onstage, and the altered ending feels like a concession to political correctness: the anarchy and energy from the original film and the stage version just don’t come across. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad film - it’s certainly a lot of fun - but it’s just not the Hairspray the RZ has come to know and love.

In terms of the Singalonga package? If you’re a die-hard fan of the film (and there were plenty in attendance, including a group of girls sitting behind the RZ who not only sang and danced along but shouted many of the lines with the film), you’ll have a lot of fun here. It’s good, clean fun and were it not for the exorbitant ticket price could be a routine thing to attend in Leicester Square. For those who want a bit more cynicism or kick in their postmodern film-viewing, however, this is not the show for you.

Where: Prince Charles Cinema and on tour in the UK
When: Listings vary. Check the Singalonga website.
How Much: £14.50
Concessions: £10 for kids and seniors.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £5.00 for a second run film. If you really want the Hairspray experience, save your money: for the cost of two trips to Singalonga you can see the superior stage version in the West End.
RZ Other Notes: As others suggest, you can recreate the experience (minus the party popper) in your own home for less by buying the DVD and having your friends over. For those who can't get enough of shows like this, word is that Mamma Mia! is next on the agenda. The RZ also suspects that after this review, he won't be getting a press invite for that one.

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