Based on a film by John Waters, Hairspray opened on Broadway in 2002 and was an instant hit. This is that same production which even after 20 years is as shiny and polished as a new pin and perfectly recast and performed by a top-line cast of some of Australia’s most experienced and popular musical theatre performers who share the stage with some talented newcomers likely to become the stars of tomorrow.
Among them is vivacious Carmel Rodrigues, making her professional musical theatre debut as Tracy Turnblad, an overweight teenager who dreams of dancing on a national TV show. Rodrigues has the audience in the palm of her hand from her very opening number, Good Morning Baltimore, until the rousing finale, You Can’t Stop The Beat, singing and dancing with such captivating joie de vivre that it’s absolutely infectious.
Completely unrecognisable as Tracy’s adoring and independent mother, Edna Shane Jacobson cleverly sidesteps the temptation to camp it up, instead creates an adorable motherly character who overcomes her own body shape inhibitions to champion her daughter.
No less impressive is Todd McKenney with his warm, supportive characterisation as her husband, Wilbur. Their delightful second act duet, You’re Timeless To Me had the matinee audience audibly swooning with delight.
Playing against type, Rhonda Burchmore is both stylish and hilarious as the snippy TV producer, Velma Von Tussle. Her befuddled response upon being handed a poisoned chalice as a reward for the unearned success of the Corny Collins Show is priceless.
Luxury casting as the star of the Corny Collins Show, Bobby Fox doesn’t have a lot to do, but brings such style and sophistication to his role as to beggar the question as to why he hasn’t already been snapped up by some enterprising television company.
And talking of style, keep your eye out for Donna Lee, who plays several characters under the all-purpose label of ‘Female Authority Figure”. She’s hard to recognise, because each of her characters are so different. But here’s a hint; she’s the one that nails every one of her laugh lines with unerring accuracy.
It says a lot about the talent on show in musical theatre in Australia currently that this production can field a cast of talented actors to meet the requirements of the script.
Outstanding among them is Asabi Goodman as Tracey’s ally, the unlikely named Motormouth Maybelle, in her fight against racial discrimination. Goodman’s powerful rendition of the big ballad, I Know Where I’ve Been almost stops the show.
Another stand-out among the cast is Javon King who plays a character named Seaweed J. Stubbs. King is a remarkable dancer with an arresting fluid style that signals his sheer love of movement and brings to mind the late, great, Ronne Arnold. Like Arnold, he’s a joy to watch.
But then, this cast is packed with talent. Watch out for Ayanda Dladla for plays Little Inez; Brianna Bishop as the delightfully self-centred Amber Von Tussle; McKenzie Dunn who’s captivating as Tracy Turnblad’s bestie, Penny Pingleton; and Todd Goddard, another who plays a variety of characters as the “Male Authority Figure”. All are future stars.
This highly polished production of Hairspray, with its sweetly delivered messages around body image, racial inclusiveness and tolerance, and a catalogue of hummable songs is guaranteed to send you out of the theatre with a spring in your step. Did I like it? Guess?
Sydney Lyric Theatre, 55 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont
Performance: Sunday 19 February 2023 (matinee)
Season continues to 2 April 2023
Information and Bookings: www.hairspraymusical.com.au
Image: Shane Jacobson and Todd McKenney in Hairspray – photo by Jeff Busby
Review: Bill Stephens OAM