THE BLOG
08/07/2007 12:27 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hairspray

I think for my next movie project I'd like to develop a white version of The Wiz. Movies become musicals then become movies of the musicals. Why not a movie of the movie of the musical of the movie?

Backing up one step, we have Hairspray. Less warped (and delicious) than the original John Waters movie, and greater in scope than the 2002 Tony-winning musical, Hairspray: the current movie is better in some cases than its predecessors and not as good in others.

Overall though, it's infectious fun. Bouncy, catchy, early 60s tunes. (Where are Bobby Rydell and Lesley Gore when we need them?) And unlike Rent, you don't cringe when people break into song. (Of course that could be because they sing about waking up in Baltimore, not getting AIDS.) What the movie lacks is the excitement of seeing it live and really getting swept up in the music. On the other hand, I saw the film at a WGA screening so I was the youngest person there by 40 years. Maybe your theater-going experience will be different.

The two big problems with adapting musicals for the bigscreen are how do you open it up, and who do you cast? Director Adam Shankman and screenwriter Leslie Dixon did a great job clearing the first hurdle. Since the piece was so stylized to begin with, you have no trouble buying dance numbers in the street. It's not like the film of West Side Story where these bad-ass gang members are all prancing around and pirouetting in urban war zones. And expanding the Allison Janney character was inspired. She stole every scene she was in.

Casting the adaptation was only partially successful. Hollywood always likes to cast movie stars instead of the Broadway performers. (So what if Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn can't sing? Neither could Clint Eastwood, but that didn't stop him from crooning in Paint Your Wagon.)

But with a youth oriented show, calling CAA makes sense. When they cast the Rent movie with the original off-Broadway cast they all looked 40 (which is because most probably are). Marissa Jaret Winokur, who won a Tony playing the lead, Tracy is now in her mid-30s. Too old, I'm afraid to still play, 17. Even Tyne Daly decided not to apply.

Newcomer Nikki Blonsky was terrific! You fear her future in the business will be playing wacky friends to pretty actresses not as talented, but in her one starring role, she shined. In general, all the kids were fine. Although, Andrew Rannells, who played Link in the Broadway production I saw, blew the doors off of Zach Efron.

Amanda Bynes proved it is possible to turn in a good performance without battling drug and alcohol addiction. Who knew?? And Christopher Walken was his usual superb strange self. Currently on Broadway, Jerry Mathers is playing that part. No. I'm not joking. Could you ever in a million years conceive that Beaver Cleaver and Christopher Walken would be playing the same role?

Queen Latifah was fine but not as good as Doris Troy on Broadway. And I'm told she was not as good as Mary Bond Davis who originated the role. If they made the movie today, Jennifer Hudson would play the part. Sure she's too way young but she has an Oscar. Let's just say she's the right age for the marketing department.

I still can't get over Clint Eastwood singing in Paint Your Wagon. What were they and he thinking???

Now the bad news: John Travolta. The joke wears thin in, like... a minute. And what you're left with is a guy who can't sing, has no real flair for comedy, and probably didn't need a fat suit. Here is where Hollywood sacrificed quality for name value. Harvey Fierstein made every line hysterical. The best you can say about John Travolta is that he's a good sport.

On the other end of the spectrum, Michelle Pfeiffer was so painfully thin that I didn't know whether to laugh at her jokes or call 911. It's hard to enjoy a performance when you're concerned for an actor's safety.

But the bottom line is Hairspray is well worth seeing. Which version is up to you. Personally, I prefer the Broadway production. And after Jerry Mathers leaves maybe he'll be replaced by Don Imus.

Wait a sec -- instead of re-working The Wiz, maybe I should focus on Frost/Nixon. First it was a TV show turned into a play and now will be a movie. I could turn the movie into a musical and then we could get another movie and maybe if we're lucky, a TV show based on the movie based on the musical based on the movie based on the play based on the TV show.

You can read more from Ken at kenlevine.blogspot.com