Honorable mentions: “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,” “Good Morning, Baltimore”
If I went to middle school with you, and you happen to be reading this, it is probably your fault that it took me until high school to form a genuine interest in musicals. There were, in those days, two musicals that everyone between the ages of twelve and fifteen knew about: Rent and Hairspray. The only songs that anyone seemed to care about from those two musicals were “Seasons of Love” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” I am tired of those songs – I was exhausted by them when I was thirteen – and I spent three years of my life going down a completely different rabbit hole. You set me back, kids. And what really cheeses me off is that you didn’t even like, stick around to introduce me to “Out Tonight/Another Day” or “Run and Tell That” while I was being bludgeoned with socially conscious showtunes.
“Run and Tell That” is best song from this musical. In a musical that relies heavily on dancing to make its plot work, this is just about the only song that compels you, Father Karras-style, to get up and do just that. A surprising number of Hairspray numbers don’t compel you to do a whole lot at all; the show has a reputation for being daffy and sugary and quirky, but the songs themselves, even the big ones – “I Can Hear the Bells,” “Welcome to the ’60s,” “Without Love” – tend to drone a little bit, and the lyrics are not quite Cole Porter snappy. I suppose that’s why “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” which actually has one, is as popular as it is, and it’s part of the reason that I adore “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,” which usually gets me swaying by the two minute mark.
“Run and Tell That” isn’t far different from a “I Can Hear the Bells” or “Without Love” on the lyrical front, and on Broadway it doesn’t fully break out of the drone either. Corey Reynolds (second video, Broadway) and Elijah Kelley (first video, film) are very different singers, with different ranges, and while this song functions just fine with Reynolds’ smokier sound, it absolutely flies with Kelley’s smoother tones and higher voice. Kelley is almost screeching towards the end, but it’s a screech that works, sort of like a tea kettle telling you the water is boiling.
Someday, after NBC has turned Hairspray into their next live musical (which I literally just found about), and maybe after there’s been a major revival on Broadway, someone will write the Hairspray equivalent of The Wind Done Gone for this show. Motormouth, Seaweed, and Little Inez each get a solo or two, but by and large they are secondary characters. That’s too bad; even though everyone in Hairspray seems to get that the black people are significantly more hip, we can’t get Seaweed a second song just for himself. Maybe they’re just too sweet and too rich for the show to handle. Or something.