Hairspray Live! was a hit with fans when it revived the iconic Broadway musical for a primetime TV audience, and now BroadwayHD is returning the favor by bringing the 2016 NBC production available for streaming. To celebrate, I spoke with legendary choreographer Jerry Mitchell—who’s responsible for all the impeccable choreography on multiple versions of the production, including Hairspray Live!—to look back on his history with the show and what it meant to stage it one more time.
Learn what Jerry had to say about choreographing Hairspray again for TV audiences and what he thinks about the Broadway streaming trend—before you stream Hairspray Live! on BroadwayHD, the only streaming service offering premium full-length stage plays and musicals captured specifically for multi-platform viewing to theatre fans across the globe.
Brittany Frederick: We had a few years there where live musicals were a TV staple. So when NBC decided to do Hairspray Live! what made you want to come back and choreograph that production?
Jerry Mitchell: Television gives the opportunity to reach a lot more people than the theater. So whenever you get a chance to film something or do it on television, I think you just have this opportunity to reach such a large audience. And if I learned anything about Hairspray in the six years that it ran on Broadway, the experience I would see of families sharing the show really was what was so moving.
BF: It’s a different format, so was there any significant change in the choreography for Hairspray Live! versus choreographing for a traditional stage production?
JM: I had to figure out how to make it work on television. A lot of the choreography worked, but there were certain things that I needed to change for camera, and there were also transitions and new pieces that I had to do, because we were doing it live. And so we were going from sound stage to sound stage with the same amount of time you would go from stage right to stage left. Not so easy to do on a movie set. (laughs)
BF: The fun thing about it now being available on BroadwayHD is that fans can watch it on their own time, so we can rewatch numbers or take a closer look at details. Is there anything in particular you’d want fans to check out again when we stream the show?
JM: I just love the show. When I first got involved with Hairspray, it really was because of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. They wrote the score and we had been friends in New York City for 17 years before the show came along. We were all in our early twenties, we met in New York City and we were doing things Downtown and off-Broadway, and this was their Broadway debut. The fact that I got to choreograph their first Broadway show and work with them and infuse their music with the kind of joy and full-out energy that I love was really a gift. It was just a gift. And so I love all the dance numbers and the energy the kids are pouring into them.
BF: What does it mean to you that theatre productions are now being made available for streaming? It’s game-changing for the stage community in a couple of different ways.
JM: I think every single show that opens on Broadway should be captured on opening night with the original company, the original sets, the original costumes. That exciting opening night of a Broadway show—if every single Broadway show were captured on opening night and either presented on the streaming platform when the producers were ready to share it, or when the show closed, or during the run.
There used to be a thought that showing something on television or on a streaming platform will ruin your ticket sales at the box office. We all know now that’s not true. It can actually enhance the ticket sales at the box office and just make people more excited to see it live and in person. So I believe that every show should be taped.
if there’s a musical that you can stream, any musical, I think you should check it out, because it’s my livelihood. It’s not just my shows. It’s all the shows. I think having the access to live theater in your own home, what a gift.
BF: One neat thing about theatre is that we do get to see creatives and performers come back to shows, as you did with Hairspray Live! What was it like for you to return to Hairspray for the live show and just be able to do it again?
JM: The funny thing is that I get a lot of opportunities to go back to shows. Pretty Woman opened on Broadway and it was okay, but then I had the chance to redo it in London and it’s a smash hit there. That happened with Legally Blonde, same thing, which is still being done to this day and about to be revived in the UK. A lot of my shows have had very long lives: Hairspray, Legally Blonde, Kinky Boots, and now Pretty Woman. It’s a nice thing.
BF: With the theatre world opening back up, anything you’re doing currently that you want fans to be on the lookout for once we’ve seen Hairspray Live! again?
JM: Kinky Boots, which you can stream, is also going to be live at the Hollywood Bowl. It’s going to be in Korea this year, it’s going to be in Japan this year, and it’s going to be at so many places all around the United States. Other theaters are doing it this summer. Coming back from the pandemic, it’s such a show filled with joy, that there are quite a few productions that are going to be popping up all around America.
My biggest passion is Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which I am a huge, huge fundraiser for. I serve on the board and I created a show called Broadway Bares, which is a modern-day burlesque show that this year will celebrate its 30th anniversary. 30 years we’ve been doing the benefit, and we’ve raised over $24 million for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. This last year and a half during the pandemic, we did two virtual shows and those raised over $2.1 million. But this year’s the 30th anniversary; it’s going to be at the Hammerstein Ballroom here in New York City. I think the date is June 26th [and] tickets are already on sale at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and it’s going to be quite a celebration.
Hairspray Live! is now streaming on BroadwayHD.
Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.