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'Hairspray'

Tracy Turnblad is round of face, full of figure, and a great dancer — the kind of high-spirited '60s teenager who waves a cheery hello to the neighborhood flasher before hitching a ride on a passing garbage truck to get to school.

But it's after-school that she blossoms, watching a Baltimore TV dance program that she'd love to try out for if only her mom weren't urging her to be practical. Where the John Waters original starred the hefty drag queen Divine as a Baltimore housewife (and a then-unknown Ricki Lake as her daughter), the movie musical marks the drag debut of John Travolta and the film debut of one Nikki Blonsky. Travolta's pretty wonderful as Edna — down-to-earth, vulnerable and, when he cuts loose in high heels and pink sequins, every bit the dancer he was back in his Saturday Night Fever days.

For a star-studded big-budget musical, Hairspray does a nice job of retaining both the funky sweetness and the anti-segregation message of the original. If anything, the musical ramps up the social consciousness stuff, giving Queen Latifa's Motormouth Maybelle more pointed things to say and turning station-manager Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) into the whitest white-bread face of intolerance ever to be voted Miss Baltimore Crab. Hugely enjoyable summer fun. (Recommended)

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.