Why I’ll watch ‘Hairspray Live’ with my kids tonight

As I tune in to NBC’s live version of the musical Hairspray tonight, I’ll be singing along … and talking to my kids about some important issues in America.

Hairspray Live! featuring Dove Cameron as Amber Von Tussle, Derek Hough as Corny Collins, Garrett Clayton as Link Larkin. Trae Patton | NBC | NBCU Photo Bank | Getty Images

When I first got wind a Broadway version of Hairspray was in the works back in 2002, I got nervous. Hairspray, the original campy John Waters film about kids on a dance show who break racial barriers set in 1962 Baltimore starring Ricky Lake, Debbie Harry, Sonny Bono, and Jerry Stiller, had been a favorite of my teenager years. I hated the idea of anyone messing with what I considered perfection.

Of course, Hairspray the Musical went on to win great acclaim and even Tony awards. The songs were catchy, and the brilliance of the story line stayed true.

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By the time a new Hairspray movie was announced—one based on the musical—I couldn’t wait. For me, it did not disappoint. And not just because the music is still among the dance-i-est, sing-i-est scores around. It’s because this movie proved—like the original and like the Broadway musical—that a powerful, transformative message about civil rights can be all kinds of fun (as counter-intuitive as that sounds).

So, when the movie released on DVD, I snagged a copy, and it quickly became a family favorite. While the original 1988 movie would be too grown-up for my kids, my children have enjoyed the music and the movement from the musical version since they were little. And it’s ushered in conversations for our family that might not have happened otherwise.

Amid big hair and swingy songs, Hairspray highlights a shameful part of our history—one in which segregation ruled; a time when black kids couldn’t even dance with white ones in public or on TV. Watching this helped my kids not only understand the horror embedded in parts of our country’s history, but the horror of how recent this history was. At one point, my son asked why the characters were behaving like this when people were driving cars. In his little mind, segregation was a thing of horses and buggies, not something that happened just a decade before his mom’s birth. It troubled him—as it should have. And we discussed it together.

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But beyond just the historic, Hairspray has helped our family navigate issues that still affect us. Though segregation may have been outlawed, plenty of the attitudes (such as fear toward others who are unlike us) still exist in our world today. As does the class-ism and the “size-ism” the musical portrays.

In many ways, the problems of the Hairspray world are still among us. And Hairspray gives us words and music (and dance moves!) to talk about them and helps our kids understand that changing the world for the better isn’t something left to adults in big governmental buildings. But often the big changes come through the kind, brave actions of young people, breaking barriers in everyday life.

All this to say, though I’ve not been the hugest fan of all the “live” musicals that have aired recently—it’s become something of a TV fad—,my family and I will be tuning into Hairspray Live tonight—and I hope you do too (with ages seven and up). My kids and I will be eagerly awaiting the songs we love—and the conversations we need.

Hairspray Live airs on NBC at 8/7 CT, December 7th.


Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira

Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at carynrivadeneira.com.

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