There isn’t much not to like about the musical Hairspray, It’s bright, fun, packed full of great songs and is the poster musical for racial equality.

Set in the early ’60s, Hairspray, with music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, takes us back to the early days of television and the cusp of racial segregation break down in the USA.

Centric to the story is Tracy Turnblad, an everyday nuclear family teenager who loves music, boys and dancing. Tracey’s current crush falls on teen idol Link Larkin who is one of the stars on American teen dance broadcast, The Corny Collins Show which was based on The Buddy Dean Show of the same era.

A bandstand production, like others at the time, it had popular music, new dance crazes and often led trends of the time. The Buddy Dean show was taken off the air as the network station was not prepared to have integrated races share the screen. (It is surprisingly embarrassing to remember that this only occurred in the last 50 years).

Akin to the musical Grease, the TV show brings its broadcast to the local high school of which Tracey is a student. Awkwardly outside of the cool kids on campus, Tracy is desperate to show her skills as a dancer in the hope of securing a place in the cast after an unplanned “nine month” leave of absence by a regular cast member creates an opening.

Tracy ultimately wins the gig after keen eyed Collins spots her talent. Being a champion of equality, Tracy’s desire to win the boy and dance on her favourite show are quickly shelved to ensure that people of colour share the stage on the weekly broadcast.

Met with much opposition by the network and show sponsors, Tracy quickly becomes public enemy #1, only pushing her more to rally supporters in her quest.

Hairspray’s addressing of the topics of gender stereotyping, racial inequality and body image are so well woven into this bubble-gum musical that you almost forget you are being slapped in the face with the message.

You walk from the theatre with a heavy message of an average history, but with a huge smile on your face. Perhaps News Corp, needs a little Hairspray in its delivery.

Making her professional theatre debut with a bang(s), Carmel Rodrigues is a pocket rocket tour de force. Carrying much of the show, starry eyed Rodrigues is proof that perfect casting makes for perfect productions. Her voice and acting chops will ensure she plays quirky characters for years to come.

As Tracy’s mother Edna Turnblad, Shane Jacobson had costume padding that was as well stuffed as his talent as a musical theatre performer. I was dubious to this casting decision as often; Australian theatre producers roll out a name (Bert Newton for eons) as a draw card to a ticket.

Jacobsen pleasantly surprised me with strong vocals, confident dancing and as Edna’s appetite in the show frequently referenced, he ate almost every scene he was in.

Supporting Jacobsen as Tracy’s father Wilbur was theatre legend Todd McKenney. In line with this production’s perfect casting, McKenney beautifully underplays Edna’s doting husband and supporting father of Tracy.

The chemistry between Jacobson and McKenney is as sweet as it is hilarious.  Their duet (You’re) Timeless to Me and incorporated corpse breakup has the crowd in stitches begging for more. Perhaps it’s a Kenny thing?

Bobby Fox as Corny Collins is as slick and suave as a cheesy TV host should be. His sharp timing ensures that the jokes falling around him land perfectly.

HAIRSPRAY Rhonda Burchmore and cast photo by Jeff Busby.jpgAs the network producer and antagonist, Rhonda Burchmore plays Velma Von Tussle like Randal from Monsters Inc, evilly slinking herself across any set piece that hadn’t been nailed down. 

Asabi Goodman as Motormouth Mable lacks the requisite acting presence to portray this strong figurehead for the black movement in Baltimore, but what she lacks in this area, she makes up for tenfold in vocals. Her soulful number, I Know Where I’ve Been is a powerful and proud showstopper.

As Tracy’s friend Penny Pingleton, Mackenzie Dunn is as good a comedic actress as you will get. Her character work is outstanding, her vocals are second to none amongst this talented line-up and her commitment to character never ends.

If you go and see the show, and I encourage you to do so, occasionally take your eye off the main fare and watch Dunn’s skills in action.

Other supporting cast in this production are equally as entertaining. Brianna Bishop as Amber is the ’60s answer to Regina George, managing mean, beautiful and funny in a well-balanced act.

Sean Johnston as Link Larkin is vocally on point as the object of Tracy’s affection making his difficult emotional journey believable and felt. And as Seaweed J. Stubbs, Javon King has the moves like Jagger and the vocals to match.

As a special note, stellar character work was delivered by the adult authority figures, Donna Lee and Todd Goddard. Bravo!

Under the lead of Music Director Dave Skelton, the catchy ’60s thematic tunes are pumped out with perfect precision and will keep your toe tapping until after the last note is played.

The ’60s vibe is well carried with set design by David Rockwell, encapsulating the era with bright sets that pop colour and versatility. The costumes by William Long are equally vibrant and befitting of the day.

Packed with positivity and delivered by an uber-talented ensemble, Hairspray is what a great night at the theatre should be.

So, flick your bob, set your doo and meet the nicest kids in town.

Festival Theatre – Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Street, Adelaide
Performance: Saturday 31 December 2022
Season continues to 28 January 2023

For more information, visit: for details.

Images: Shane Jacobson and Todd McKenney | Todd McKenney, Asabi Goodman, Mackenzie Dunn, Shane Jacobson and Carmel Rodrigues | Rhonda Burchmore and cast | all photos by Jeff Busby

Review: Jeff Lang