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