The musical, which came out in 2002, was based on a film that came out in 1988, and it told a story of a fictional dance show that was on TV in 1962. So TV in 1962 became film in 1988 and musical theater in 2002 and got back to TV in 2016.
But the hope of the NYT was that it would be relevant in 2016.
Based on the 1988 John Waters film, the musical’s story of social outcasts and racial barriers is set in 1962, and it should amaze and distress us with its continued relevance in 2016. The broadcast, though, didn’t generate as much power it could have because of all the shots of the cast members golf-carting from one set to another, of viewing parties in various cities and so on.What are we talking about? Who watches of a bunch of singing actors on TV knocking themselves out to produce a big live show? Might these viewers get a kick out of the backstage stuff, golf carts and all? The NYT wants "us" to be amazed and distressed. Distressed?! By the continued relevance?
Yes, the show is about racial prejudice — overcoming it with song and dance and teenage enthusiasm. The elite-media hope is that we'll watch this theater-on-TV antic and think — not Wow, Maddie Baillio is a star and I love Jennifer Hudson — but: America still struggles to overcome its shameful history of racial oppression. Or even: How tragic, the innocent dreams of these teenagers, who could not have imagined that half a century later racist America would elect Donald J. Trump!
I must give the NYT credit for not mentioning Trump. I felt I was being nudged to think about Trump, and that caused me to Google and see all the news outlets that covered "Hairspray Live!" in terms of Donald Trump. (And "Hairspray" is not actually about hairspray, which does call Donald Trump to mind.)
I'll just cherry pick one Trump-focused review of last night's big show. This is from A.V. Club:
Hairspray ... arrives as America is still grappling with the notion of having Donald Trump as a president...Somehow the show's message of love and happiness is supposed to feel like an expression of hatred toward the man who just got himself elected. There are a whole lot of Americans who voted for Donald Trump. A new poll has his favorability rating at 50%. Something tells me the TV audience for a live Broadway musical is even more Trump-friendly then the American electorate in general.
[A]s Trump was busy attacking private citizens on Twitter, Hairspray Live! was celebrating the idea that we’re stronger together than we are apart. That’s just the kind of jubilant, cathartic message a lot of people need to hear right now....
Favorite celebrity cameo: It’s a tossup between Sean Hayes as plus-sized clothing storeowner Mr. Pinky, and Rose O’Donnell as the high school gym teacher (a piece of casting that feels like an explicit ‘fuck you’ to Trump).
The idea of "Hairspray Live!" working as anti-Trumpiana feels as out of touch as the assurance that Hillary Clinton's campaign was a celebration of the idea that we’re stronger together than we are apart.