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  • Writer's pictureKristyn Burtt

'Hairspray Live' Promises to Deliver Delicious Dance Numbers and a "Sensational" Derek Hough

Updated: Apr 1, 2020

Musical theatre fans are gearing up for NBC’s annual Broadway event. This year, producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, are serving up Hairspray Live with an all-star cast including Kristin Chenoweth, Martin Short, Jennifer Hudson, Dove Cameron and Ariana Grande. 

Dance Network joined script adaptor and star Harvey Fierstein and choreographer Jerry Mitchell for a conference call about the upcoming special event. Here’s what they had to say about the choreography, the dancers and yes, Derek Hough as Corny Collins

Mitchell, who created the original choreography for the 2002 Broadway production, decided to use the movement he created for the theatre as a guide for the television special.

“I came to the project with my choreography from the original Broadway production, which I used as my base to get started,” says Mitchell. “The great thing that makes it different is that you are working with a 365-degree angle. You aren’t in a proscenium-like theatre, so it’s more like doing theatre in the round.”

Fierstein expanded on Mitchell’s work on the project.

“What Jerry has done is taken the original choreography, but it’s expanded. He created a language of dance that kids could invent themselves,” he says. “That’s what was exciting about the dancing of that period, the kids made up these dances themselves. Jerry’s taken that simplicity and raised it to an art form.”

With a host of seasoned actors in the show, Fierstein was thrilled to cast newcomer Maddie Baillio for the key role of Tracy Turnblad.

“Maddie Baillio is a true star. She has a voice that is just wonderful, it’s exciting, it’s real,” the Tony-winner says. “She has a spirit that is indomitable and she moves and attacks Jerry’s beautiful choreography with such gusto. She just dives in.”

Even singing pros like Disney Channel’s Dove Cameron have impressed the two Broadway veterans.

“Dove was doing a movie when we cast the show. We met in LA and put her stuff on video and she took it up to Vancouver where she practiced every day,” explains Mitchell. “When she showed up on set, sure enough, she had all of her steps down.”

When it comes to dance experts, Dancing With the Stars fans are most looking forward to Hough’s appearance as host Corny Collins. He will have four major segments with The Corny Collins Show, which will also incorporate a live studio audience for the teen-dance show within Hairspray Live.

“Derek is amazing. He comes in full out, he learns it quicker than anybody else and then he gives it right back to you,” raves Mitchell. “He’s never once in all of our rehearsals said, ‘Oh, I don’t like that step, can I try this instead?’ He’s been unbelievable. He’s a super talent and a super sweet man. I am really excited to have the opportunity to work with that man.”

The show is sticking close to the Broadway version, but they added the song “Ladies Choice” from the 2007 movie remake because of Hough’s talents.

“Because of Derek Hough, Jerry wanted to use a song that was in the movie called “Ladies Choice” because it’s a dance number and it would allow Derek to really dance,” explains Fierstein.

The one thing Mitchell is being cautious about when it comes to the dance numbers is protecting the young dancers’ bodies.

“These kids here are dancing on a soundstage and then they have to run outside and dance on pavement for the next production number. They don’t have time to warm-up between numbers," he says. "Once it starts, it’s going full-steam ahead. We start every day here with a warm-up just to get them used to warming themselves up for this event.”

Fierstein and Mitchell hope the viewing audience is moved by Hairspray Live’s message, especially after a tumultuous election year. They believe the event will spread joy and unity with its underlying theme. 

“I think Hairspray is needed more today with the recent turn out of our election than ever before because inclusion and everyone just dancing together is what really boils down to in a really simple message,” says Mitchell.

Fierstein not only loves the show’s message, but he thinks it’s a great way to revisit the lessons learned from the civil-rights era.

Hairspray is a really good reminder that a few years ago in our history, we couldn’t even dance together,” sums up Fierstein. “I think we need to remember that and say, ‘Do we really want to go back to the days where people live in constant fear of touching each other, talking to each other, of being together? Do we want a separated, divided America or do we want an America that is stronger because we are all together?’ Hairspray, in its fun, gentle, John-Waters way, carries that message.”


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