Monday, March 24, 2014

Hairspray: The Cast That Almost Was


It was 2007 and I feel like people weren't expecting that much from the movie adaptation of the stage adaptation of the John Waters film Hairspray, but as more and more names were attaching themselves to the project, it became rather exciting. It was the first musical of the year (we had a couple more months to wait before Enchanted, Across the Universe, and Sweeney Todd) and Dreamgirls had just earn Jennifer Hudson an Academy Award. It had also managed to get the sour taste out of our mouths from 2005's overwhelmingly disappointing Rent.

But Hairspray originally felt like it was going for that same demographic. A mainstream success with serious undertones and themes of racial tension and integration, not too dissimilar from Rent's dealings of coping with fatal disease and loss, while aiming for a demographic too young and immature to grasp these concepts. But where Rent shied away from these things, Hairspray managed to embrace it much more. Despite being a colorful, happy-go-lucky world, there was still the race relations and changing times that were at the heart of those carefree 60s.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say, basically is Hairspray was not only a better musical adaptation, but a better movie overall. There are parts I love to defend about Rent, but I'll be honest, I love shitting on it way more.

What's interesting to me is how available the alternate casting options for most of the roles are. Imagine the movie that could have been. Not necessarily that it was a better cast, it's just amazing to think about how close some people were and how the entire movie experience would have been different. Hashtag: What if Will Smith had played Neo instead of Keanu Reeves?

They don't have much on Zac Efron, but I have to imagine a Jonas brother had to be in the running at some point. Considering how well he did a few years later as Marius at the O2, I'm kinda glad he didn't. (Although, to be fair, he did play Efron's part at the Bowl a year after his Les miserable disaster.)
Other than that, I can't think of anyone else who jumps out for Link Larkin.

As for Seaweed, he's essentially the only teen character who isn't cast as a movie star. Elijah Kelley's pretty masterful in the performance. Corbin Bleu (also of High School Musical like Efron) played him at the Bowl (opposite Nicky boy Jonas) but, and this is weird to say, Corbin's not black enough. Corbin passes for Dominican. No really, I saw him in In the Heights when he took over for Lin-Manuel. He's awesome, but for a movie it just doesn't work realistically enough for the racial tension that's at the heart of the movie.

Brittany Snow makes for a wonderful Amber Von Tussle. The alternate that I've heard was Hayden Panettiere, whom I love. She was just starting Heroes around this time, plus she's a bit tomboyish for the role. Although she plays the mean girl quite well. Speaking of Mean Girl, would Amanda Seyfried or Rachel McAdams have sufficed? Probs.

Boy, it's weird watching Amanda Bynes in this movie now. It almost makes me uncomfortable. She looks and feels so out of place in a musical the whole time, so there's that too. Diana Degarmo, an American Idol runner-up (who also took over for Eden Espinosa when BKLYN went on tour) was Penny at the Bowl, and I think she would've been a pretty great choice, but they did end up casting the teens as all known film entities, Elijah Kelley and Nikki Blonsky herself being the real exceptions. I'd probably throw Alexa Vega into the role. She's a far better singer, far less awkward.

Marsden beat out Wolverine for Corny Collins. I'm kinda glad Hugh Jackman isn't always the go-to guy for movie musicals, because he can be just kind of bland (there's nothing particularly wrong with him in Les Miserables for instance, but there's also nothing terribly special about him either). Marsden nails the personality perfectly. I don't know how Jackman would've done, but I have a feeling it wouldn't have measured up. But you know who did it at the Bowl and would've been lovely? John Stamos. (Yes, I do love that man way too much for a heterosexual male.)

It seems there was only one choice for Velma, and Michelle Pfeiffer is pretty damn perfect. Cameron Diaz is still a few years off from having to succumb to a role like this (although she's Hannigan in the new Annie, so take that as you will) and maybe the only other awesome take would've been Meryl Streep. Could you imagine Meryl Streep as Velma? Holy shit.

As for dopey dad Wilbur Turnblad, we all know Christopher Walken pretty much nails the role. Of the names mentioned as alternates though, Billy Crystal I'm especially sympathetic toward. That would've been cool to see. This may be a weird choice, but I also would've enjoyed another Dan Aykroyd turn as a dopey dad.

Motormouth Maybelle was played by Queen Latifah in the movie, and who can think of any other person who could've done it, except maybe Missy Elliott? There's Jennifer Hudson, but I don't think the Dreamgirls schedule would've lined up. Well, surprised to say Aretha Franklin was considered for the role. Imagine. The Queen of Soul as Motormouth? Woof.

And of course, John Travolta rounds out the cast as Edna. There were a lot of names rumored to be up for the part and I'm torn between Tom Hanks, who would've brought some charm (and he's done Bosom Buddies) and Robin Williams, also another actor we'd get to see in disproportionate drag again. I think I'd take Williams if it was Crystal as Wilbur, and Hanks if it was Jim Broadbent, who was also in consideration for Wilbur.

So,
Blonsky as Tracy
Williams as Edna
Crystal as Wilbur
Meryl as Velma
Aretha as Maybelle (Just imagine for a moment that Velma/Maybelle catfight as performed by these two.)
Stamos as Corny
and Alexa Vega as Penny.
Elijah Kelley, Brittany Snow, Zac Efron, and Allison Janney are all perfect where they are.

I'd also just want every other minor role to be a cameo by someone from a movie musical. Kevin Bacon is the station manager. Harvey Fierstein is a teacher. Julie Andrews shows up somewhere, because who cares, it's Julie Andrews.