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Hairspray the Musical - Sydney Lyric Theatre (NSW)

Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan. Music & Arrangements by Marc Shaiman. Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman.

Reviewed by Justin Clarke

Sydney Lyric Theatre, Star City Until April 2nd


- You can't stop the beat of Hairspray with its charm and insanely high energy -

Ask any musical theatre fan and they’ll say that one of the best closing numbers of a musical production is Hairspray’s ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’. Its high energy dancing, catchy rhythms, and empowering message closes off Hairspray on the highest of highs. The latest production to land at the Sydney Lyric Theatre continues this tradition and gives audiences a cracking good time at the theatre.

Set way back in the early 60’s, placing us in the town of Baltimore, the show centres around the days of racial segregation and the whitewashing of black and white television. A time where the positive body movement was not even considered and to even suggest the mere idea of change would label you as an outcast.

Marc Shaiman’s music and lyrics requires an air of pantomime when needed, and a grounding resonance in its key moments to strike the balance of humour, distaste and grit. The cast of the touring production of Hairspray hit this balance impressively well.

Images by Jeff Busby

We follow Tracy Turnblad as she sprints for her dream to be on The Corny Collins Show. Based on The Buddy Dean Show in real life, the program focused on being profoundly segregated, full of the latest dance moves and leading hairstyles and trends of the time. With Tracy being seen as “unfit” for television due to her weight, it seems that her dream may never be realised. After quickly befriending a group of African American students and learning some new dance moves, she’s quickly spotted by Corny Collins (Bobby Fox) and pulled right into stardom.

The irony isn’t lost in Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s book that it’s the society who are omitted from appearing on television that ultimately give Tracy her big break. The many references to Elvis in the character of Link Larkin (Sean Johnston) parallels The King’s own appropriation of black culture to shoot himself to stardom.

Hairspray’s messages of racial inequality, body image and even harsh gender stereotypes are wrapped in fairy floss, and delivered with humour and energetically choreographed dance numbers so intense, it's easy to get lost in just having a fun time.

To bring the 60’s era to life, William Long’s wig budget is clearly a high figure as each bob and doo was extravagantly placed and immovable throughout the dance numbers. This coupled well with the intricate costumes dripping in colour that sat neatly against David Rockwell’s versatile and cartoonish set design.

Whilst Hairspray may be too sweet for some when presented with such rigorous subject matter, the sheer infectious joy of the show cannot be denied.

Understudying Carmel Rodrigues in this evening’s performance was the equally talented Caitlin Spears in the role of Tracy. Spears imbued Tracy with an infectious grin and resilience that you couldn’t not root for her throughout.

With an immense amount of padding to match his comedic heft, Shane Jacobson’s Edna Turnblad shone through each moment she was on stage. Jacobson has a knack for leaning into his characters with a jovial attitude and depth and this performance was no different.

Playing opposite Jacobson as Edna’s doting husband Wilbur is Todd McKenney. McKenney seemed entirely at home on stage. It’s clear that McKenney was there to have a fun time and give to his co-stars, bringing an air of relaxation and humour.

Jacobson and McKenney’s number ‘(You’re) Timeless to Me’ swifty became a crowd-favourite as the pairs incorporated corpsing into the number gave them ample room to play around with the ridiculousness of the number and Jacobson’s role. Sometimes all you need in a musical is a plain backdrop with a silly song undertaken by two charismatic leads with a sharp wit. With the audience already in stitches, Jacobson planted a big kiss on McKenney in tonight’s show, exclaiming, “Well, if there was ever a night for it to happen!”*

Rhonda Burchmore’s cantankerous network producer Velma Von Tussle is wholly unlikeable, with a slimy nature and desperation for the spotlight. The constant degrading remarks targeted towards Tracy were presented well by Burchmore to make you despise her.

In the role of Motormouth Mable, Asabi Goodman’s powerhouse vocals in ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ proved to be an absolute show stopping number.

Mackenzie Dunn as Tracy’s ditzy best friend Penny Pingleton showed her comedic chops throughout, presenting strong characterization and expelling some stellar vocal highlights. Her counterpart, Javon King as Seaweed J. Stubbs ate every scene he was in. King had a constant air of confidence about him that matched his hip-swaying moves and stellar vocal control.

Whilst Hairspray may be too sweet for some when presented with such rigorous subject matter, the sheer infectious joy of the show cannot be denied. The message at the end of the day is about positivity and inclusiveness. The power of loving yourself and accepting those who are told they cannot. If you shake your shoulders on the way there, that’s just an added bonus.

*This review took place over Mardi Gras weekend during Sydney WorldPride.



Book by Mark O’Donnell, Thomas Meehan

Music & Arrangements by Marc Shaiman

Lyrics by Scott Wittman, Marc Shaiman

Original Direction by Jack O’Brien

Original Choreography by Jerry Mitchell

Set Designed by David Rockwell

Costumes Designed by William Ivey Long

Lighting Designed by Kenneth Posner

Sound Designed by Steve C. Kennedy

Direction by Matt Lenz

Choreography Re-Created by Dominic Shaw

Musical Director Dave Skelton

Music Supervisor Nicholas Skilbeck

Australian Associate Lighting Designer Gavan Swift

Australian Sound Designer Michael Waters

Resident Director and Choreographer Eric Giancola


Shane Jacobson Edna Turnblad

Todd McKenney Wilbur Turnblad

Bobby Fox Corny Collins

Rhonda Burchmore Velma Von Tussle

Carmel Rodrigues Tracy Turnblad

Asabi Goodman Motormouth Maybelle

Sean Johnston Link Larkin

Javon King Seaweed J. Stubbs

Donna Lee Female Authority Figure

Todd Goddard Male Authority Figure

Brianna Bishop Amber von Tussle

Ayanda Dladla Little Inez

Mackenzie Dunn Penny Pingleton


Zahrah Andrews Swing

Kobe Brown Gilbert

Jamonté Bruten Ensemble / Duane

Eli Cooper Swing

Sienna Embrey Ensemble / Brenda

Andrea Fleming Ensemble / Dynamite

Lucy Fraser Swing

Joel Granger Ensemble / Brad

Paul Hanlon Wilbur Turnblad / MAF Standby

Micheal Corey Hassel Swing / Assistant Dance Captain

Zuleika Khan Swing

Zoe Ioannou Ensemble / Tammy

Todd Jacobsson Ensemble / Fender

Savannah Lind Ensemble / Shelly

Madeleine Mackenzie Swing / Dance Captain

Jazz Madison Pearl / Dynamite

Anna Mallows Ensemble / Lou Ann

Chloë Marshall Swing

Tony Oxybel Ensemble / Thad

Morgan Palmer Ensemble / IQ

Kristin Paulse Ensemble / Dynamite

Conor Putland Swing

Caitlin Spears Tracy Turnblad Standby

Harry Targett Ensemble / Sketch

Aaron Theodore-Cooke Swing

Gabriyel Thomas Ensemble / Lorraine


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