Following the success of live television productions "The Sound of Music," "Peter Pan" and "The Wiz," NBC will air "Hairspray Live!" on Wednesday, Dec. 7; and honestly, the Broadway classic and its message of inclusion couldn't come at a more relevant — and welcome — time.
Set in 1960s Baltimore, "Hairspray" follows quirky teen Tracy Turnblad (played by newcomer Maddie Baillio) and her efforts to integrate "The Corny Collins Show," a local dance program that only allows African-American teens to join on the last Tuesday of each month. Along with fighting for racial inclusion, she also confronts body-image bullying from reigning mother/daughter duo, the Van Tussles (Kristin Chenoweth and Dove Cameron), embraces female empowerment and learns the power of peaceful protest. Despite the story taking place in civil rights era 1962, the issues still ring true over 50 years later as we look ahead to 2017.
To help the audience further relate to the story, costume designer Mary E. Vogt designed a wardrobe that skews contemporary, rather than "super dead-on" for the period. For inspiration, she studied two previous big-screen incarnations of "Hairspray:" the (in)famous 1988 John Waters version starring Divine and Debbie Harry, and the 2007 movie starring John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer. Vogt, who also designed the costumes for Tom Hiddleston's upcoming "Kong: Skull Island" and the "Men in Black" franchise, took the "eccentric" quality from the former and the more "realistic" interpretation of the latter to ultimately give it her own twist.
"It's a very timely subject," she says. "[So the costumes are] very realistic, but it's a very, very heightened sense of reality. So we went with really bright colors." The color palette also visually communicates the racial divide and eventual movement toward integration in the story. (Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC)
To start, Vogt dressed the "new kids" (essentially the white kids) in primary colors and bright pastels, while the African-American teens start off in tertiary, "more complex and interesting" colors, like purple and green. Aspiring dancers-turned-activists Tracy and her friend Penny Pingleton (Ariana Grande), traverse both worlds socially and in wardrobe.
"As the movie goes on, everyone gets more of everyone else's color," Vogt explains. "In the last scene, [while singing] 'You Can't Stop the Beat,' people are borrowing each other's color a little bit more. It's subtle. I think people kind of feel it. You do feel color, even in an unconscious way."
Since the production is broadcast live, the technical elements behind the costumes are also crucial — especially when it comes to elaborate dance numbers. Luckily, along with playing Corny Collins, Derek Hough of "Dancing With the Stars" has conveniently been on hand to consult on wardrobe malfunction prevention.
"Derek has taken it to a whole new level of doing suits in stretch and having the armholes cut a certain way and having gussets in the pants," Vogt explains. "I mean, really, if you want to know anything about dance clothes, you ask Derek." In addition to crotch gussets for the male dancers, she also found solutions in contemporary jeans by Levi's and skate brand Volcom. "Skateboarding jeans are great for our show because they've got lots of Lycra in them. They're impossible to split," she says. "We just taper them." A final trouser safeguard for a live broadcast: "Making sure that everyone has underwear to match clothes," Vogt adds. "So when the pants rip you can't see it too much."
As for dresses, Vogt tried to minimize risk of holes and tears at the arm and shoulder seams. "It's very easy to rip the sleeves off when they wave their arms," Vogt says, hence the fair amount of bare-armed looks on the ladies. "These poor girls are going to be freezing outside." Although, some looks do require more coverage, like with Tracy's Pucci print three-quarter sleeve silk dress. So a resourceful Vogt recreated the abstract pattern on four-way stretch Lycra for the top to match the flared silk skirting. "You'd never know it was different fabric from the skirt," she says.
The small-screen production of "Hairspray" stars quite a few notable names, including Harvey Fierstein reprising his Broadway role as Tracy's mom Edna, Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson as Motormouth Maybelle, Kristen Chenoweth as Velma Von Tussle and "Liv and Maddie" star Dove Cameron as her daughter Amber. While Amanda Bynes played Tracy's BFF Penny in the last movie iteration, Ariana Grande steps into the character's shift dress and white sneakers in this version.
Despite being a superstar triple threat, MAC Viva Glam spokesmodel and fragrance mogul, Grande was more than happy to be a team player for this production. (She did, after all, start her career at the age of 14 in the Broadway production of, um, "13.") Due to Grande's demanding schedule, Vogt offered to find a body double for required fittings and send the singer/actress photos for approval. "She said, 'no, no, no, I'm going to do it.' So she really made time for fittings," the costume designer says. "She's totally into it."
Vogt, the cast and crew are all preparing for anything that could happen on the newly built Universal soundstage, from inclement weather (Scotchgard for the rain, FYI) to wardrobe malfunctions. In her emergency kit: a tagger gun, a quick-fix fabric-securing device that looks similar to a grocery store scanner. "We're going to have a lot of those in case the clothes start ripping," she says.
"Hairspray Live!" airs on Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. on NBC.