The musical Hairspray has been compared to Bye Bye Birdie. Both shows feature:
- A teen idol on a 60's television show
- A mix of adult and teen romance
- A racist antagonist
But while Rose's struggle with racial prejudice is a small subplot in Birdie the struggle to integrate the Corny Collins show is front and center in Hairspray.
Protagonist Tracy Turnblad has three goals in act one. She wants fame, love and for her unhappy mother to like herself. She achieves all three before the first act finale. Then she pushes for integration and puts her success at risk. When Tracy loses her nerve in Act Two she's called out on it. The exchange is more powerful than anything in Bye Bye Birdie and should never have been cut from the 2007 film.
Maybelle: Hold it. Nobody ever said this was gonna be easy. If something's worth having it's worth fighting for. Tracy, why did you start all this in the first place? Was it just to dance on TV?Some have criticized the musical for taking itself more seriously than John Waters' 1988 film. John Waters himself has praised the musical, though he also admits:
Maybelle: Was it so you could get the boy?
Tracy: No. I almost lost him because of it.
Maybelle: Then maybe it was just to get yourself famous.
Tracy: No. I just think it's stupid we can't all dance together.
I've certainly made more from Hairspray-the musical, not the new movie-than anything I've ever made in my whole life. I'm very thankful to Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, who were very fair with me and brought me into the deal from the very beginning. It has been a great experience.