REVIEW: Hairspray

Hairspray tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a 1960s teenager who works her way onto an after-school television dance program. Tracy paves her own path (in a way) and believes in racial integration. For a show as progressive and boundary-pushing as it was in its hayday (it’s based on a John Waters’ film, after all, and helped to mainstream drag performers for a wider audience), Hairspray seems to be stuck in a rut. Tracy is verbally defined throughout the show as being overweight. Hardly a number goes by when we aren’t explicitly told Tracy is a “fat pig” (yes, “pig” is used). Sure this stays true to the original, but this aspect of the character and the challenges she faces could easily be toned down to make the production more modern. I’m not even particularly sensitive to fat shaming, but this aspect of the show made me cringe multiple times. Did they really need the line “I love you no matter what you weigh!” when “I love you” is the core of what matters and would have conveyed a stronger message? “I love you,” full stop. The relentless focus on her weight didn’t need to be so defining of her as a person.

Hairspray also puts a smiley happy face ending to the race relations addressed in the show (the cultural appropriation and white savior issues are entirely glossed over) as though that’s all it took to solve the intractable American problem. Again, this is true to the original and is probably much more challenging to address, but it left me unimpressed with the storytelling, which seemed more focused on adding several Minnesota-specific references to garner a quick laugh, but quickly turned gimmicky.

Overall, I believe audiences come to Hairspray for a show packed full of boppy 60s tunes and high-energy dance numbers. This production will deliver on both. The music is fun but, again, nothing serious and mostly forgettable with perhaps the exception of “I know Where I’ve Been” featuring Sandie Lee. “You Can’t Stop the Beat” will also be a delight in your head for days, but the rest is just filler. All in all, I had fun at Hairspray. It’s a fun show, I just don’t take it too seriously.

Hairspray is at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis through January 15, 2023. Tickets start at $40.


In-person student and educator rush available for all performances of Hairspray. Extremely limited and most likely single seats.
• $40 per ticket — CASH ONLY
• The Orpheum Theatre Box Office will start selling in person at 2 hours prior to curtain
• Line forms outside the theatre
• Students/educators may purchase up to 2 tickets per valid school ID
• Subject to availability

Photo by Jeremy Daniel