“(The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs” from Hairspray

This song has a reputation for being the one dud in the otherwise fantastic score of Hairspray. Leaving aside the fact that the Hairspray score, for all its sublime highlights, isn’t as uniform in quality as you might think (does anyone even care about “It Takes Two”?), let’s examine just what people seem to think is wrong with this song. Granted, the lyrics are extremely crude and frankly rather juvenile, even by the standards of the show’s lyrics as a whole (which were not above the occasional puerile joke at the best of times). But the melody…a rangy and wildly overblown tango that perfectly fits the hammy delivery of the lyrics…does do a lot to sell this song. And remember, the number was specifically designed for the original Velma Von Tussle, Linda Hart, and, at least when performed by her, it’s actually kind of a riot. Also remember that the earlier attempts at a number for this scene had come off as too mean-spirited and humiliating for Tracy (sample title: “No-one On This TV Show Will Ever Look Like You!”), so having Velma lost in her own reminiscences for most of the number was actually a pretty clever solution. As for the Hairspray film’s version of this number, which is far subtler and less overblown, Michelle Pfeiffer played it with a fair amount of relish, but a song with lyrics like ‘they padded their cups/but I screwed the judges’ probably doesn’t gain a lot by being finessed. Overall, it’s not the strongest number in the score, but it’s a very suitable way to musicalize that particular moment, and actually pretty entertaining when you get a performer with sufficient panache, and I can think of plenty of songs from much more lauded musicals that are far weaker (e.g. “It’s a Scandal, It’s an Outrage” from Oklahoma).

Verdict: Not ideal, but oddly effective in actual performance, and far from the worst song to appear in an otherwise wonderful early-2000s Broadway hit (“Love Is My Legs”, anybody?).

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